INSIGHT-Zika-hit Puerto Rico prepares to import all of its blood supplies
By Toni Clarke
WASHINGTON Feb 19 (Reuters) - New guidelines barring the collection of blood in areas with outbreaks of the mosquito-borne Zika virus will be put to the test first in cash-strapped Puerto Rico, where health officials have two weeks to start importing the island's supply.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said earlier this week that areas with active domestic transmission of Zika virus should stop collecting blood locally.
Puerto Rico has reported a small number of cases of local transmission, and U.S. health officials expect many thousands of residents to be infected once the mosquito season reaches its peak this summer.
Local health officials fear switching to imports could undermine the island's voluntary donation network, which provides the bulk of its needs. The new guidelines will require Puerto Rico to obtain its entire supply from the continental United States at a cost of up to $100,000 a week, said Jose O. Alsina, vice president and chief operating officer of Puerto Rico's Banco de Sangre de Servicios Mutuos, the island's largest blood bank.
The U.S. territory is struggling with about $70 billion in debt and a 45 percent poverty rate. The island has already defaulted on some debt payments and its Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla has warned that the government is close to running out of money.
Alsina said its eight blood banks can't afford to buy blood and make payroll, which includes about 400 drivers, phlebotomists, nurses and others. Blood bank officials are asking the government to help pay for the imports so they can maintain their infrastructure until local collection can resume. They also have asked for extra time to collect blood locally before having to import it all.
"Laying off people, even for a short time, would be devastating," Alsina said.
The FDA said that it recognized the new rules would create hardships but stressed they were necessary to ensure safety. The Zika virus has been found in blood, and experts are concerned about the possibility that it could be transmitted through transfusion. Continuación...