Convinced that the number of patients suffering from thalassemia registered with the public health department to be inaccurate, the Maharashtra state government has mandated that henceforth all pregnant women who have low hemoglobin count be screened for thalassemia minor. According to present records, while 8558 patients are registered across the state, public health officials are convinced that the number is more than 30,000.

The present move comes as a huge relief to thousands of patients suffering from the blood disorder — while there has been a steady rise in the number of young patients over the years, there have also been complaints of shortage of medicines at health centers. The public health department has centers at government units of Nashik, Thane, Satara, Amravati, and medical colleges of KEM Mumbai, and Sassoon General Hospital, Pune, for free medicines — iron chelation tablets — and blood transfusions. The department has 8558, thalassemia major and minor card holders who get the benefit of free medicines. Thalassemia is a genetic blood disorder, where those suffering from the disease suffer from low hemoglobin, which causes severe anemia. Presently, health centers are faced with a huge number of young patients suffering from thalassemia. “To identify such cases early and begin treatment, we will start the screening pregnant women to detect the possibility of future thalassemia minors at public hospitals,” said Dr Sanjeev Kamble, director of state health services.

As the new data gets tabulated, the public health department will make arrangements for free medicines in the health centers of villages for the patients in their area. “The supply of the stock of medicines has to be increased at the centers so that patients get adequate medicine. They will be given stocks that last them at least a month, as opposed to a week’s supply that they receive now,” said Dr Kamble. The public health department distributes free medicines to patients from six hospitals across the state. Welcoming the decision, Dr Vijay Ramanan, director of the bone marrow transplant unit, Ruby Hall Clinic, said, “While the prevention looks easy, its implementation will be tough. The calculation of patients suffering from the disease is done on the basis of the free blood given by the government. But what about those patients who have stopped taking blood from government establishments free of cost. The government does not have details of such patients.” Here he drew attention to patients suffering from the disease who prefer to undergo blood transfusion in private hospitals, which government bodies will be unaware of.

Dr Ramanan also specified that doctors in government hospitals, especially in rural areas, have to undergo training to treat patients suffering from thalassemia, as the medicines are known to have side effects. “Consumption of excess medicine can lead to the damage of vital organs of patients, such as liver and kidney. The government hospitals do not have any mechanism to monitor the side effects,” said Dr Ramanan. Sameer Nikam, secretary of Thalassemia Society Maharashtra, called attention to the shortage of supply of medicines in rural hospitals, which drives the hapless patients to the city. “The decision of screening pregnant women is good but it should be implemented properly,” said Nikam. “We have driven home this point to the state health minister that several times the number of patients is more than that registered with the government. There is also lack of awareness in the patients as many of them don’t know about the treatment apart from the blood transfusion.” – Pune Mirror

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