Facebook introduced a new feature in India to help its users find potential blood donors.
There are enough evidences of black market for human blood in India around blood exchange practice at hospitals called replacement donor (you can get one blood bag from a blood bank when you bring in a blood donor to replace the stock).
There are 2 ways of blood trading business that replacement practice invites.
First one is peer-to-peer. People called “professional blood donor” are standing by at or near hospitals, and waiting for patients’ family looking for replacement donors.
Second one is organised crime. The blood agents (or blood trader, simply saying) act as middle-man between donors and patients. They find “replacement donor” and collect money from patients in return. They often act as in the form of NPO or charity organization. In the countries blood selling is illegal, they charge patient “transportation fee” instead.
Learn more about India’s blood black market HERE.
Will this new feature in Facebook take over the control from blood traders? Or will it be helping blood traders find “donors” more efficiently and grow their business?
In their news statement, Facebook mentioned:
When individuals or organizations are in need of blood, they’ll be able to create a special type of post with all the information donors need to easily offer help. When a request is created, Facebook will automatically notify blood donors who may be nearby to help spread the word.
How does this feature prevent blood traders from reaching out to innocent donors, or innocent blood donors reaching out to blood traders by mistake? Does Facebook have ability to identify blood trader organizations and screen them out?
Donors can then review the request and, if they wish to respond, contact the requestor directly through WhatsApp, Messenger or a phone call.
What this is not saying directly is Facebook will simply provide the ground where they notify the demand regardless its nature and let donors decide how to deal with it. In other words, it is your responsibility to identify to whom you are giving your blood and it is your responsibility if you are intentionally and unintentionally engaged in illegal blood trading acts.
If you want to sell your blood, you will be looking for the signs of traders. If you want to truly donate, you will have to thoroughly examine the request and figure out yourself whether the request is genuine from patients. By failing this, your “donated” blood will be illigally sold and you are directly or indirectly involved in a criminal act. Whatever happens, it is outside of Facebook’s control and therefore Facebook will not be responsible for any illegal buy-sell acts by using this feature.
On the other hand, the blood trader organisations can easily find and reach out to the buyers (patients) as well as sellers (donors) using this feature if there is no protection mechanism for it. Over the years, hospital blood banks tried to keep these blood traders out from their facilities but this feature can potentially reverse all their effort and allow blood traders to reach out to patients with no effort from anywhere.
There is another side to this.
It has been a known fact that this replacement practice invites business opportunities to blood traders, and 57 developed countries (according to WHO as of Oct, 2017) have successfully removed these blood traders from business by achieving 100% voluntary blood donation, which means people donate blood regularly regardless demand and hospital blood bank always have sufficient blood stock (therefor, no business opportunity for blood traders to sell blood).
Learn more about WHO promoting voluntary donation practice HERE.
Will this feature (making direct link between donors and patients) end up enhancing replacement practice? Or will it even help enhancing peer-to-peer blood selling acts? If so, will it be considered “backward” and may start reversing all the effort made by many people last 50 years or this will become the “new forward” in definition?
Is WHO endorsing this feature? By the way, WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Director, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, is Indian. Is India’s Health Authority endorsing this as well? If WHO and Health Authority of India are endorsing this, it is a big turn around of policy. If they do not endorse this, then, do they have any alternative action/tool to drastically improve the situation in India?
In their statement Facebook commented:
We have worked together with nonprofit organizations, health industry experts, potential donors, and people who have used Facebook to find blood donors to ensure that what we are designing will be useful to people in India.
So what this is not saying directly is there was no involvement of WHO or Health Authority of India for the development of this feature.
Those people involved, namely “nonprofit” organization, health industry “experts,” “potential” donors, etc… do they have the big picture like WHO or Health Authority, and thoroughly discussed these issues (blood traders) and have plans for it?
There seems to have been a choice for Facebook to make the request side feature available only to Blood Supply Authorities (blood banks) so they can use the tool to increase voluntary donors instead of replacement donors. The difference would have been Facebook would not be able to collect requester (patient) database if they have chosen to do so. Maybe that matters to them?
Right now, there is not much implication to find answers to these questions in the statement on Facebook’s press release or anywhere else.
There is a number of coverages by mainstream media on this new feature but none of them are addressing these issues, either, as of Oct 6, 2017. CNN is one of them.
Some local media coverage below but none of them are addressing this dark issue of their country, either:
Times of India
Besides these, there are hundreds of coverages by tech related on-line media right now and there is none by healthcare/medical specialised media as of Oct 6, 2017. Obvisously the party is only among the tech community right now.
We do not have answers to these questions right now, however, the impact of this feature is probably bigger than we can imagine. It will definitely shake both ends – blood traders (who love replacement practice to be continued and enhanced) and blood authorities (who has been fighting to increase 100% voluntary supply).
The odds: blood traders are doing this for their living, so will take on this very seriously and will find the best use of the feature for themselves while blood authorities (government workers) will be “discussing the issue” for a while.