“In India, 12 million units of blood are needed per year. But only 9 million (units) are donated, coming from only one per cent of eligible donors."
We all have that one teacher who inspired and motivated us in school. It was no different for Chethan Gowda.
The quiet, introverted boy describes the bond he shared with his favourite teacher to be akin to that of a mother and child, and was understandably shattered when he found out that she had passed away.
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“My board finals were going on when I learnt of the sad news,” Chethan recounts with a heavy voice.
In the next few weeks, Chethan got to know that she was suffering from a disease and had succumbed to blood loss since there was no blood nor donors available for her in time. Soon after, he also witnessed a close friend frantically looking for B- blood for her uncle, as he grappled with a medical emergency.
The two separate incidents deeply moved Chethan. Over some research, he realised how critical the blood donation situation in India was.
“In India alone, 12 million units of blood are needed per year, but only 9 million are donated, coming from only one per cent of eligible donors,” he informs.
His first-hand trysts with the crisis soon prompted him to start Khoon, a foundation to resolve the blood shortage crisis in India and motivate more people to donate blood. In just four years, Khoon has garnered over 87,000 signatories from all over India.
Clubbing blood donation with entertainment
Chethan was all of 15 years when he started Khoon. The organisation was officially launched in September 2016. Initially, he began by organising frequent blood donation camps, prompting his friends, family and acquaintances to contribute to the noble endeavour.
“But, soon I realised that a social cause did not garner a large crowd. So, I clubbed our donation camps with different themes—be it a musical concert or a stand-up comedy gig. This idea turned out to be a success as more youngsters started pouring in,” shares Chethan.
The expansion of Khoon
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With word spreading rapidly over WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Twitter, Khoon developed an intricate network of over 700 willing donors in just two months. In January 2017, Khoon launched their 24X7 helpline—9538244183—where volunteers connect patients’ families to the nearby donors, any time of the day.
Chethan’s dedication was so strong that he went ahead to make his phone number as the helpline number.
By March 2017, Chethan had already delivered a stirring TED talk, which in turn brought over 5000 new members to the Khoon family. “It was a huge milestone for us,” he asserts.
As Khoon was expanding, Chethan started hiring interns to help him build a stronger network. Two of the interns, who hailed from Assam, proposed the expansion of the NGO in the North-Eastern state.
Chethan agreed, as he always wanted Khoon to cater to the people in areas with lower outreach, and thus, within a few months, Khoon established one of their busiest networks in Assam. Following that, it also opened a segment in Bhilai in collaboration with regional blood banks.
At present, Khoon operates across India with strongholds in Karnataka, Assam and Bhilai. In Karnataka, Khoon has partnered with the State Health Department and works with 214 blood banks in the state.
Dr Vishnu Priya, a leading haematologist at HCG, Bengaluru expresses her gratitude towards Khoon for promptly helping 3 of her critical patients in the last 2 months. “We needed granulocytes (WBCs), which is more difficult to procure than normal blood donation. But I am thankful to the Khoon team for being kind and prompt enough to find donors for us. Even for granulocyte donation for rare blood groups, they took much lesser time than other blood banks. We look forward to getting assistance from them in future as well.”
How Khoon is busting blood myths
Initially, Khoon would receive around 2 to 3 calls per day on the helpline. Today, the number has increased to 40 calls per day. The Khoon team strives to maintain a response time of maximum 30 minutes, within which a potential donor is assigned to a seeker.
“The blood donation scene in India is still quite outdated. There is still very less clarity about the process. This leads to a lot of myths which discourage people from donating blood,” expresses Chethan.
For instance, many people are under the notion that if they are donating blood for free, why do the blood banks charge a patient during blood transfusion?
“They need to know the expense involved in the collection and preservation of blood. Khoon is raising that awareness,” he mentions.
Chethan also reveals a lesser-known dark reality—the LGBTQ community in India is prohibited from blood donation, as the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) considers the group as ‘high-risk’ for HIV.
Keeping in mind their plight, Khoon has started a campaign to dispel the myth and also to promote intra-community blood donation, so that no individual has to face a medical crisis merely for his gender or sexual orientation.
Khoon has also addressed other related issues, like stopping the wastage of healthy blood during transfusion on newborn babies. Infants are generally transfused with not more than 80 ml blood at a single transfusion session, which leads the rest of the blood in a standard 350-ml unit to go to waste. Thanks to Khoon’s prolonged campaigning, India’s leading blood bag manufacturer Terumo Penpol has started manufacturing 100-ml blood bags meant explicitly for babies.
Plans for the future
Only 19, Chethan has big plans for the future. In a model inspired by Western countries, he envisions to open a concept blood bank by 2021 where blood will be made available for free across India. Alongside, he wants to start a training institute for laboratory technicians where more people will be equipped to handle blood bank operations, thereby generating employment.
Chethan Gowda is in the third year of his mechanical engineering at present. The pressure of studies is undoubtedly high, but nothing deters him from devoting his free hours for Khoon – his foremost priority.
“Today, handling both my academics and Khoon together has become the daily routine. And my team of 40 core members and 300+ volunteers is always there for support,” he concludes.