GEORGE TOWN: Poor health and lifestyle of many Malaysians are among the main reasons why the National Blood Centre (NBC) is now facing a supply crisis.
Supply at the NBC and other centres throughout the country is down 40% but many who want to donate blood have to be turned away.
“Despite various promotional activities, the status of blood collection has not been satisfactory to date, reaching only 57% of the target,” Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said at his daily Covid-19 media briefing in Putrajaya on May 20.
From March to May this year only 67,135 bags of blood were collected compared to 111,328 bags during the same period in 2018.
Each bag of blood is usually 1 pint or 450 ml.
Last September, the Health Ministry launched Kampungku Sihat, in Penang, a large-scale health screening of close to 10,000 residents in 79 villages.
The reported results were sobering: 65% of those screened were at risk of diabetes and 40% teetered on the edge of hypertension.
Meanwhile the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey found that one in two Malaysian adults were obese, one in three suffered from hypertension, and one in five lived with diabetes.
This poor state of health directly affects blood bank supply.
Penang Adventist Hospital blood transfusionist Wang Pack Yee said 443 or 14% of the 3,173 people who wanted to donate blood at the hospital last year had to be turned away.
He said 28% of those rejected had low haemoglobin (HB) count.
“Women frequently have low HB, especially after menstruation. Regular donors also have low HB if they do not take enough iron. Their HB is actually considered normal and they are healthy. But to donate, you have to be better than normal,” said Wang, who has been a transfusionist for 11 years.
Another 11% of those rejected had high blood pressure, 10% were on certain medications which make their blood unusable, and 9% had abnormal white blood cell count.
“When your white blood cell count is high, it can mean your body is dealing with an infection, even if you don’t have symptoms,” Wang explained.
Wang, who previously served at both the Penang Hospital and also NBC, said those who had casual or paid sex — even once — should not donate blood.
He said there was a case of an individual who donated blood every three months for around five years, until the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was detected in his blood.
He said every patient who received the donor’s blood in the previous 12 months had to be called back for testing.
“It was an ordeal for all of them.
“Even if you are completely free of sexually transmitted diseases and practice protected sex, this lifestyle puts recipients of your blood at great risk. That is why hospitals are prevented from receiving your donation,” he said, adding that blood was also not taken from males who had sex with other men.
Wang said while HIV risks, like what he had encountered was rare, the underlying issue was the challenge that blood banks faced in finding regular, healthy donors.
Other less common reasons to reject donations include women in the first three days of menstruation, those found to have symptomatic infections, are underweight, have low blood pressure, a pulse of more than 100 beats per minute or a vein too small for the needle.
Those who passed everything but faint at the sight of the needle are also rejected, and Wang said he has seen this “more than once”.
The rejection rate recorded by Central Seberang Prai Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS) was higher, at 25%.
The society’s blood programme sub-committee chairman Ng Poh Heng said out of 4,697 people wanting to donate blood last year through them, 1,151 had to be rejected.
The society did not compile the reasons for their rejection.
A study published in the Malaysian Journal of Medicine and Health Sciences in January last year pointed out that only 2% to 2.25% of Malaysians donate blood, while World Health Organisation stipulates that 5% of any country’s population need to be donors for a stable supply.
The Star has contacted the NBC on the rejection rate nationwide and is awaiting its reply.
More information on donation criteria can be found in NBC’s website, www.pdn.gov.my.
During the movement control order, many state government hospitals appealed on social media for blood donors to step forward.
Regular donors were given written permission to leave their homes and head to donation centres.
On Feb 20, NBC ran a creative post on Facebook when it was low on blood.
“If you could queue up for four pieces of chicken, you can also queue up to donate blood. Our stocks are low and getting lower. We appeal to your kindness to donate quickly,” NBC, which supplies blood to the Klang Valley, said in its post, which was shared over 2,100 times.
The “four pieces of chicken” referred to that day’s queuing up by thousands of people for a promotion at a fast food franchise.
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