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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 73-76

Ethics that apply to blood banks, apply to newspapers as well. How about some responsible reporting by the print media?

Department of Transfusion Medicine, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication11-Sep-2017

Correspondence Address:
Shivaram Chandrashekar
Department of Transfusion Medicine, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/GJTM.GJTM_47_17

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How to cite this article:
Chandrashekar S. Ethics that apply to blood banks, apply to newspapers as well. How about some responsible reporting by the print media?. Glob J Transfus Med 2017;2:73-6

How to cite this URL:
Chandrashekar S. Ethics that apply to blood banks, apply to newspapers as well. How about some responsible reporting by the print media?. Glob J Transfus Med [serial online] 2017 [cited 2019 Jun 20];2:73-6. Available from: http://www.gjtmonline.com/text.asp?2017/2/2/73/214288

  Memorable Day in Indian Blood Transfusion Services Top

The 24th of April 2017 was a Memorable day in Indian Blood Transfusion services. It was on this day that all blood bankers in India woke up to some sensational news and many blood donation drives were cancelled by donor organizations. All thanks to a news report in a leading national newspaper that proclaimed to all and sundry, that Blood Banks were wasting blood and that too in large quantities.[1] The actual national wastage was 6%. Annual wastage of 6% did not seem to make an impact on readers! The newspaper glorified it stating that this amounted to 6 lakh (0.6 million) units of blood sufficient to fill 53 water tankers! Not content with annual wastage rates, they further went on to magnify the wastage saying 26 lakh (2.6 million) units wasted over 5 years. Sensationalism according to print media ethics is a type of editorial bias in media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are overhyped to present biased impressions on events which may cause a manipulation to a story's truth.[2] No one knows, who told them how much each bag contained when no figures are available for the same. By doing this, they claim they had exposed a serious flaw in the country's health-care system.

  Canadian Blood Discard Rates Top

While it is true that nearly 6% of the blood is wasted in India as quoted by the newspaper, is this something any country would like to put up as headline news? Contrast this with the heading given by another paper Metro in Toronto “Blood-discard rate starting to decline from peak of 9.3%: Canadian Blood Services dated Fri Jul 31, 2015.[3] This is what I call responsible reporting. We commend this Canadian reporter while expressing our strong dissatisfaction for the Indian press for their exaggerated reporting of wastage in India. The Canadian reporter reduced the impact of even a higher rate of 9.3% by citing the reduction rather than blowing it out of proportions. May be that's why Canada has such a good Voluntary donation movement compared to India. The report further states that “For several years, nearly 1 in 10 blood donations collected in Canada were being thrown away without ever being used, but Canadian Blood Services says it has now managed to bring its discard rate down to 7.6% as per CBS report 2016.” The paper highlights the reduction rather than the older rates of higher wastage.

  Australian Blood Discard Rates Top

If we were to take Australia, the figures given by the National Health Authority of Australia [4] for blood discard rate is 5.7% and India @ 6% is not far behind. While it is good to argue based on emotion that blood is a precious resource and nothing should be wasted, is this practically feasible for any perishable commodity, more so for blood, absence of which is sure to kill.

We did give a rebuttal to these papers comparing our wastage (6%) reported by National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) with that of Canada and Australia. However, that is yet to see the light of the day. A donor donated blood 100 times, and many private blood banks give free blood for thousands of patients in a government hospital for years. Who is interested in positive news about blood banking? These are not considered worthy of reporting in India. I sincerely hope and pray that the situation is different in other countries.

  Does Freedom of Press Mean Writing Whatever One Wants Without a Benchmark? Top

What the newspaper did not know or care to write about is that this wastage of 6% is on par with many developed countries such as Australia or Canada despite a clarification given by the blood transfusion council. Unfortunately, the NBTC which is credited for all the improvements in blood transfusion services in the country took its own sweet time to react to this news report by which time the news got outdated. Outdated news is no news for newspapers. Clarifications by experts and National and State Blood Transfusion Councils to this effect went unheard. What the press does not realize is that any negative news that has a negative impact on Voluntary blood donation is harmful to the society at large and must be toned down or presented less dramatically. More so, when we were not faring badly, compared to the developed nations. Nevertheless, we need to identify areas where wastage can be brought down and works toward it with or without the criticism of newspapers.

  Blood Wastage Drops Sharply Reveals Right to Information (RTI) Top

Even in this gloomy situation, there is one newspaper “The Hindu” known for an unbiased opinion. This newspaper brought out an article in Mumbai dated June 8, 2016, with the heading “Blood wastage drops sharply reveals RTI.”[5] If wastage is low in Mumbai in 2016 then the rest of the country cannot be far behind! Let us leave it to the readers to decipher the truth [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Which is true ?

Click here to view

  Hilarious Quotes Written Hurriedly:”Youngsters Serve Through Platelet Donation Top

There are many more hilarious quotes that get reported by newspaper reporters in their efforts to make a story out of blood banking. To them, our life and patients' misery are nothing but a story. Sample this report in another paper. In a report titled “Youngsters serve through Platelet donation”[6] this is what the reporter said: “According to XXXX, in dengue or any viral fever cases, platelet donation must not be done unless the platelet count goes below 10,000. As per World Health Organization guidelines, platelet donation can be done only in cases of excess bleeding in the brain, gastrointestinal tract or urinary tract.[4]” Let alone the common man even the person quoted (XXXX) and the WHO must be wondering what this means! This is what happens when publications are written in a great hurry in the middle of night to make headlines the next day. Please replace the word “donation” with “transfusion” to understand this. Print media ethics require that reporters be as accurate as possible given the time allotted for story preparation and the space available, and to seek reliable sources. Would it have made a big difference if the reporter had clarified what he wrote with an expert and published this report a day later? Alas, gone are the days when newspapers were used by students to learn grammar and spelling. Today, let alone grammar even facts are wrongly quoted.

  Concept of Fresh Blood Top

National Newspapers apart, local newspapers are not too far behind. I once remarked to a reporter, that fresh blood is not needed in most instances. The reporter wrote this article and was even good enough to have the same vetted by me. What I did not know was the heading of the news item. Although the news item captured the contents correctly, the heading translated to English read “How fresh is the blood you receive?” Print media ethics require that headlines and subheadlines of newspaper articles should correspond fully to the contents of the article.

  Equating Blood Bankers With Blood Sellers Top

Blood bankers are often labeled blood sellers by the print media, as blood banks charge processing fees for the blood they give. If blood bankers are blood sellers what should newspapers that sensationalize news items with scant regard for its effect on voluntary blood donors be called? Don't we know that news in many papers is often paid news? If there are black sheep amongst the blood banking fraternity the same holds good for print media as well. While we do acknowledge that there are many blood centers flouting the norms and charging processing fees over and above the prescribed limits, there are a larger number following the law, as well. How do press reporters determine that blood banks are charging in excess? Simply by making anonymous phone calls and asking the gullible technician on duty for the rates. They neither have the patience nor the interest to understand why rates are different in different blood banks. The rates released by the governments to the media contain only the basic rates and not the additional charges that blood banks are permitted to charge for special tests (such as NAT, SAGM, buffy coat, leukoreduction, and irradiation). In many cases, even the inspecting authorities have no formal training in blood banking and hence are unable to distinguish right from wrong. Very often, blood donors, social workers, chief guests, and clinicians give varied opinions about blood (often erroneous) which get printed as such in newspapers adding to the confusion in the community.

When blood banks do additional tests and charge for them, they are compared with another blood bank which does only basic tests and the ones doing the special tests for improved quality, are branded as a profit making blood centers. Are we to blame for lack of uniform National guidelines? How we wish the print media highlighted our archaic laws, absence of a National blood authority, reliance on a hard copy of all records and registers in this era of information technology, lack of guidelines for staff strength in a blood bank and the like so that the transfusion services across the country can be improved?

  Hospitals Shy Away from New Blood Test Methods Top

Another National newspaper dated 26 November 2016 read “Hospitals shy away from new blood test methods.”[7] When hospitals do not do specialized tests such as Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAT) and prefer to maintain modest quality at moderate costs, blood banks are blamed for shying away from NAT testing. NAT testing is the latest fad to the huge list of confusion and panic created in the community by the media. Currently, to do, or not to do NAT is a choice given by the government to blood banks. It cannot be imposed just because some companies want it to become universal. Not doing NAT is perfectly in line with National Aids Control guidelines which prescribes only ELISA testing. The choice in developing countries or medium developed countries in the Asian region is not whether blood banks should do NAT or should not do NAT, but whether the people have access to even bore basic things such as tested blood, whatever be the technique used. NAT can be made universal if we make kits in India. Making NAT universal is a theory proposed in newspapers by some corporates whose patients are affordable and by some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs); NGOs which blood bankers do not know exist. Having said this, I am not against NAT. NAT certainly improves blood safety particularly in a country where seroreactivity is higher than in the west. All I am saying is that Newspapers should not demean blood centers not doing NAT and create a feeling amongst the community that issuing/transfusing non-NAT tested blood is a crime. In my personal view, NAT should be only for those who are willing to pay for it. The difference between NAT and Non-NAT tested blood is the difference between owning a Maruti (ELISA) or a Mercedes (NAT). When large number of people cannot afford a cycle, where is the question of thrusting NAT or spending huge sums of public money on NAT? If the government does have the resources, we welcome it. However, is it ethical to create public opinion for NAT and showcasing blood centers which do not do NAT in poor light? If Government wants every blood center to do NAT and yet keep prices low, then, it needs to come out with legislation and provide financial support. Blood safety is after all the state's responsibility in line with our National Blood Policy. That is a separate issue, however. What we are debating here is the role of the print media in promoting blood transfusion services in the country rather than attempting to tarnish the image of blood centers, time and again through negative propaganda. I am not saying this is deliberate and we hope the print media will correct themselves.

  Forgiveness Is the Attribute of the Strong Top

As the Mahatma said, they who know not the consequences of their action can be forgiven, if they are willing to correct themselves. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. We have seldom seen anything positive being written about blood banking in the country. If this trend continues, the donors are going to be as demotivated as the blood bankers, and the sufferer is the common man. Therefore, I appeal to newspapers from sensationalizing news relating to blood banking in the interest of the community. We know you are stronger than us (blood bankers), we know your reach is better than us. Media has tremendous power in setting guidelines and in shaping discourse. You can make a bigger contribution to the community through positive news, by highlighting our problems rather than pinning us down. We have chosen a difficult profession where both quality and service have to be matched. Support us in our efforts through better understanding.

Finally, I have a message for blood donors as well. Assuming 6% of blood is wasted, the rest 94% of donated blood is used 100% of the time. Is this not enough reason to be a blood donor?

  References Top

6 Lakh Litres of Blood Wasted in 5 Years. Available from: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/6-lakh-litres-of-blood-wasted-in-5-years/articleshow/58340602.cms. [Last accessed 2017 Aug].  Back to cited text no. 1
Ethics in Print Media. Available from: https://www.prezi.com/nmmjuhe_p7kf/ethics-in-print-media/. [Last accessed 2017 Aug].  Back to cited text no. 2
Blood-Discard Rate Starting to Decline from Peak of 9.3%: Canadian Blood Services. Available from: http://www.metronews.ca/news/calgary/2015/07/30/blood-discard-rate-starting-to-decline-from-peak-of-9-3-canadian-blood-services.html. [Last accessed 2017 Aug].  Back to cited text no. 3
National Blood Authority (AU). Available from: https://www.blood.gov.au/system/files/documents/nba-wastage-strategy.pdf. [Last accessed 2017 Aug].  Back to cited text no. 4
Blood Wastage Drops Sharply Reveals RTI. Available from: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/Blood-wastage-drops-sharply-reveals-RTI-query/article14390744.ece#!. [Last accessed 2017 Aug].  Back to cited text no. 5
Youngsters Serve through Platelet Donation. Available from: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Youngsters-serve-through-platelet-donation/articleshow/20582164.cms. [Last accessed 2017 Aug].  Back to cited text no. 6
Hospitals Shy Away from New Blood Test Methods. Available from: http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2016/nov/26/hospitals-shy-away-from-new-blood-test-methods-1542770.html. [Last accessed 2017 Aug].  Back to cited text no. 7


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Memorable Day in...
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