By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, June 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Just a few units of blood could have saved the life of Sushil Lalwani's cousin, who died in India aged 32 as relatives mounted a frantic search for donors.
Now Lalwani hopes to prevent more needless deaths like his cousin's with a new phone app called MBLOOD that aims to connect a million donors with patients across the country instantly.
"In an emergency, most people only rely on the hospital blood banks, which are often out of stock and ask you to arrange for the blood," Lalwani told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in his office in the southern city of Chennai.
"My cousin was only 32 and we tried so hard to find donors for him, putting out messages on social media and visiting blood banks. But we failed. Now, our goal is to bridge the gap between donors and acceptors and connect them in real time."
India has nearly 3,000 blood banks but they often don't have enough supply the fulfil the demand.
Government figures for 2016-17 show they were running a shortage of up to 2 million units, and more than a million units are discarded every year because the blood does not meet quality parameters or deteriorates during storage.
"Both the shortage and wastage has made blood expensive and created a flourishing black market for it," said Lalwani.
"One unit costs anywhere between 800 to 2,000 rupees and the entire business is very unregulated."
The people behind MBLOOD have raised 5 million Indian rupees (about $75,000) in funding for the app, which will be non-profit-making.
They aim to create the largest online network of blood donors with the app, one of the first initiatives in India aiming to connect donors on a single platform, making it easier for families to locate on near the hospital.
Since it was launched in January with just 150 members, MBLOOD has built a fast growing network of users and lists over 2,000 registered blood banks across India.
The app allows users to specify a timeline within which the blood is required and connects them to registered donors within a 20-km (12-mile) radius, provides details of blood donation camps and addresses of certified blood banks.
It is the latest in a series of online innovations designed to improve availability of blood for patients in India, including a government run web portal called eRakt Kosh.
"The apps are effective in smaller groups," said Neelam Nijhara of the Federation of Bombay Blood Banks, a charity connecting 47 blood banks in the city of Mumbai.
"But we don't how many people are actually responding to these innovations and donating blood, which is still a challenge, despite camps being organised and awareness programmes."
Lalwani points to the fact that 60 percent of the blood requests on the app were from small towns and villages.
"It surprised me as well that we had penetrated these pockets," Lalwani said.
"We are constantly innovating, taking on board suggestions from users and ensuring real time access to blood. We give constant updates to patients till the blood donation is done. The mission is to save lives, even one is important."
($1 = 67.0425 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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