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How Facebook is trying to help India’s blood donor shortage

80742244 - kolkata , india - march 19, 2017 : old woman collecting blood from young male volunteer lying on bed inside public blood donation camp. blood will be preserved for future use by other needy people. Copyright: <a href=''>mitrarudra / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
A blood donation camp in Kolkata.

Facebook is launching a way of mobilising its quarter of a billion Indians users to become blood donors.  

A new feature has been unveiled on the social networking site. It aims to connect blood donors with patients, hospitals and blood banks. Rollout began on October 1, to coincide with the country’s National Blood Donor Day.

The service allows Indian users to register as blood donors on Facebook. This can be done either through their user profile or by clicking on a promotion in their news feed. Once registered, they will be notified if a person or institution near them needs blood. They can respond to the request directly, via Messenger, What’s App or with a phone call.

‘Thousands of posts seeking blood donations’

The service is the brainchild of Hema Budarju, a product manager for health with Facebook. She reportedly conceived of the service during an internal hackathon. The idea was inspired by personal experience. Bedarju’s father required blood transfusions on a weekly basis whilst receiving treatment for cancer.required blood transfusions on a weekly basis whilst receiving treatment for cancer.

37283390 - facebook ceo mark zuckerberg keynote at mobile world congress 2015. march 2-5 2015, barcelona, spain Copyright: <a href=''>ivan23g / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg welcomed the news.

Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO), welcomed the news in a status on his Facebook page. He wrote, “every week across India, there are thousands of posts from people seeking blood donations. Like many countries, India doesn’t always have enough donors to provide everyone with reliable access to safe blood.”

India has a shortfall of 1.2 million units of blood a year. This is despite a 512 million-strong eligible donor population. Facebook has 241 million active users in the country – more than any other country. The country’s social media penetration, meanwhile, is growing at a substantial rate. This suggests a viral blood donor drive could at least help to cover part of the country’s deficiency in terms of blood donations.

Wastage a challenge

Issues with blood donations in India extend beyond shortages of donors, however. Wastage is a major issue in the country. As reported by Health Issues India earlier this year, almost 3 million units of blood in the country have been wasted in the past five years. This has been attributed in part to the lack of “a robust distribution network” in the country. Facebook could provide such a network digitally, fostering a strengthened connection between donor, recipient and vice versa.

One potential pitfall of the strategy is that the drive will lead to an influx of donations at first, before numbers taper off. Mass donations contribute to wasting blood. For Facebook’s strategy to provide an effective solution in the long term, the campaign must be sustained, with donations encouraged on a regular, rather than a one-off, basis.

“Blood transfusion saves lives and improves health,” according to the WHO. Schemes such as Facebook’s are positive steps towards boosting blood donations in India. Proper management and sustainability are needed to ensure such initiatives are carried to their full potential.

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