By Rasmia Rahman Amreen
In 2004, a college fresher was denied from taking part in a blood donation campaign at his university campus. Enrolled in the computer engineering program of North South University, Mr. Subrata Deb was ridiculed by the campaign members for being underweight. “They did not even allow me to enter through the door. I felt neglected!” exclaims a smiling Mr. Deb, as he recalls old memories. “I made up my mind right then and there. If I could not help first hand, I would definitely try to contribute in some other way.”
Back then, no one could have guessed how Mr. Deb’s first rejection as a blood donor would spur him into making of a promising and successful blood donation platform:
During his university days, Mr. Deb was schooled on web development. Utilising on this knowledge, he decided to create a website listing verified blood donors along with their contact details. This allowed patients in need of blood transfusion to find donors directly, without much hassle and free of cost.
However, it took time and dedication for Mr. Deb to turn his vision into a reality. On 24th January, 2013, the website www.donatebloodbd.com was officially launched.
Initially, Mr. Deb’s efforts were not being reciprocated equally by his friends or family. “After the launching, I asked around everyone I knew to register as donors. However, very few seemed bothered. I could only manage to register six blood donors in the beginning.”
Sad and stressed out over the issue, Mr. Deb confined his distraught to Mr. Arif R. Hossain, a well-renowned online activist.
“I wrote Mr. Hossain a mail, mentioning that even photos of pizzas on social media generate more likes and comments than the ongoing posts that I’m making to encourage people register in my website as blood donors. I asked him whether blood was that cheap.”
Moved by the plea, Mr. Hossain posted on his social media account to aware his fans and followers regarding the blood donation platform.
It worked! On the very day of the post, 250 blood donors had registered on the website.
Mr. Hossain helped Mr. Deb even further by inviting him to a television program called Aamrai Bangladesh.
“The show gave us a much needed exposure. It helped increase the count of donors and strengthened our links with different organisations. We also gained followers from almost every district of Bangladesh.”
That episode of Aamrai Bangladesh was aired on 14th September, 2013, on Independent Television.
After the launch of the website on 24th January, 2013, Mr. Deb went ahead and took a second initiative. He established a call center on 14th April, 2016, to assist patients and relatives looking for donors. DonateBloodBD Call Center thus became the first center of its kind in Bangladesh.
Till date, a staggering 3496 number of donors spread across 55 districts of Bangladesh are registered on the website. The website has amassed 1.5 crore hits in the past 4 years. Moreover, The DonateBloodBD Call Center has helped over 1760 patients over the last eleven months. The third platform, which is a Facebook group called “Rokto Daaner Opekkhay Bangladesh”, currently boasts over 126k members.
Alongside, regular blood donation campaigns are held all over the country where free blood grouping is provided and the blood donor database is updated from time to time. In addition, Mr. Deb also conducts experimental activities to grow beyond from being just an online platform. He heads a campaign called Offline’e Rokto Datar Shondhane. It takes place on Fridays from 10 am to 7 pm in areas like TSC, Dhaka Medical and Shahbagh. Holding banners, the volunteers reach out to pedestrians who are made aware of the campaign and are asked to donate blood for patients in nearby hospitals.
On asking about the choice of areas, Mr. Deb replies, “Most of the calls we receive are from patients who are admitted in Dhaka Medical or P.G. So, we opt to carry out our activities in areas where the patients are nearby and donors can reach them easily.”
During one such event, the volunteers of DonateBloodBD.com had come across a man who was reluctant to donate blood. On asking further, he revealed that just few months back, his wife had passed away because they could not find a donor for her when she fell ill.
The man was asked by one of the volunteers, “Would you like the same to happen to someone else?”
Caught off-guard, after pausing for a while the man replied, “No, I don’t want history to repeat itself. I’m going to donate my blood.”
Mr. Deb says, “Through this platform, I have come to witness many positive outcomes. I’m happy to be around such people who feel happy to help.”
He also mentions that, most of the volunteers and donors are students.
Mr. Deb shares some more of his stories. “In 2015, we received a request from Kushtia for a B Negative blood donor for a pregnant lady. It was past midnight. At that hour, our volunteer Rojib was having a difficult time finding a donor. With no luck, Rojib was asked to take a rickshaw and visit the patient at the hospital. While conversing with the rickshaw puller, Rojib had asked, “Mama, apnar blood group ki?” Surprisingly, it was a match! Next morning, the patient delivered a healthy baby.”
Mr. Deb also shares incidents where a suicidal youth found back the purpose of life after being praised for donating his blood or when a patient chose the donor as their daughter-in-law.
However, there also have been instances where lives were lost. “Around two years back, we were looking for AB Negative blood donor. Sadly, it could not be managed and the patient lost her life. Such incidents only reflect the ever more need to bridge the gap between patients and donors. Every year, 900 thousand bags of blood are required in Bangladesh. Our platform cannot meet this huge need. However, we will work relentlessly to raise awareness so that there comes a day where no more calls would come or no more posts would appear on Facebook in search of donors.”
The registration procedure for donors takes only couple of minutes. Those interested can log on to www.donatebloodbd.com and register by providing the necessary information. Also, they can choose to be “Super Donor” or “Dushshahoshik Donor”. Those who are readily available to donate blood 24/7 fall in the first category whereas the ones who do not find distance a barrier and are willing to travel all over the country fall in the latter.
As for patients or relatives looking for a blood donor, they can log on to www.donatebloodbd.com and search according to the desired blood group and the area they are located in. The website would present a list of donors along with their contact details in those specific areas. They can also take help of the DonateBloodBD call center.
“We do not allow any kind of monetary transaction between both the parties”, emphasizes Mr. Deb. “Donors are advised to visit the patient and mention verbally that no transaction of money is taking place in exchange of blood.”
“A lot of people fear that if you donate blood, you might fall sick or feel lightheaded, faint or become weak. However, none of this is true. We have to raise awareness among mass people about these widely held misconceptions and eradicate the myths surrounding blood donation” says Mr. Deb. “The rules are simple. One must be of 18 years and above, be at least 50 kilograms (both men and women) and must have passed seven days after ending any kind of antibiotic medication course so that all toxins have flushed out of their body. However, women cannot donate blood during pregnancy or menstruation or if they are breast feeding” he adds.
The screening and cross-matching processes are done in the hospital before one donates blood to ensure proper handling. These tests take one hour to be conducted and the very process of blood donation takes only from 5 to 10 minutes.
There are days when Mr. Deb finds it tough juggling between the platforms that he runs and the regular job that he holds in a reputed organization. However, he mentions about the undying support he receives from his family and friends. “My father once mentioned to me that, he would not mind if I left my job for the betterment of DonateBloodBD.com. I’m truly lucky to have such parents in my life.”
When asked about his own experience as a donor, Mr. Deb reveals, “I’ve had four rejections as a blood donor so far. However, I’m still waiting for my chance. I’m ready to help anyone when it comes to blood donation. The very thought that my blood would flow from head to toe in someone’s body and would help them live is motivating enough. This is my passion.”
These very rejections that Mr. Deb face, helps him constantly renews his vow to solve the blood donor crisis in Bangladesh. DonateBloodBD.com is a stepping stone towards a future where no more patients would have to give up their lives only because they could not get help from a blood donor on time.
Visit www.donatebloodbd.com to register as or find suitable blood donors. The DonateBloodBD Call Center operates on Sundays to Thursdays from 8:00 am -12:00 am and on Saturdays from 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm. The help line numbers are +8801756963308 and +8801748306027