Blood, like any other item, is sheer commodity for this Left Democratic Front Government. Plasma from blood collected in blood banks is being sold to none other than an arm of Reliance, proving again that idealism claimed by the regime never goes beyond rhetoric.
The matter was recently raised in the Assembly by Congress leader VD Sateeshan and the Government rejected any corruption in the deal and left serious questions unanswered.
The State Government had entered into a contract with Reliance Life in 2017 for sale of blood plasma and now several private blood banks and laboratories had shifted to blood plasma sale, Sateeshan told Pennews.
According to the agreement, plasma extracted from 'surplus' blood in the bank will be sold to Reliance Life. This plasma is used to produce value-added products like albumin, immunoglobulin, Factor 8, Factor 9, fibrinogen among others. All are vital medicines for serious illnesses.
Sateeshan said that while blood plasma could be exchanged for medicines, the State Government had opted for the sale of blood plasma. Worse still, several laboratories were already working for Reliance. There was a growing trend to have more blood banks just because it meant big money, he added. The rise in the number of blood donation camps could also be a result of this business.
Kerala sells a litre of blood plasma at Rs 2,200 when the price fixed under uniform exchange value by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was Rs 1,600. The Ministry order of September 12, 2018, clearly states that collecting higher than the exchange value "would amount to 'sale' of a product of human origin and is against the tenets of the National Blood Policy with respect to non-profitability".
Reliance develops high-value medicines that fetch between Rs 6,000 and Rs 20,000. In fact, as suggested in the policy statement, the Government should have looked into the option of "buy-back of plasma-derivated products of equivalent value for clinical use by patients". But there has been selective interpretation of the policy.
Instead, the Government took the sale route as it fetched good money. Private labs too were out to earn well through this sale. There is still no proper figure of what money is being made through such a deal.
There is also the issue of what methodology is used to ascertain the quantum of surplus which can be sold. There is still no clarity in the matter and the Government refuses to give such vital information. Moreover, the policy allows transfer between blood banks which can to a great extent help check deficiency in some areas as also tackle the surplus issue.
There are ethical issues that do not get recognised in this 'bloody' deal. Under the policy, the blood bank "must ensure taking of the informed consent of the blood donor for allowing the use of his blood for fractionation and derivation of essential plasma-derived medicines there from". This was not being done and the donor was being cheated.
Sateeshan points out that when the matter was raised, Health Minister K K Shailaja claimed that Reliance was selected after an open tender and this was on the basis of the National Blood Policy. Backing her, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan claimed that she had made things clear and there was no need for any inquiry. But vital issues, including ethical ones, remain unanswered.