Blood donations rise to match surge in demand

HSA plans to get more people to give as population ages, healthcare system expands

There has been a surge in the demand for blood as the population grows and ages; and more Singaporeans have been stepping forward to donate it, too.

Over the last decade, the volume of blood needed for transfusions grew by 45 per cent from 2005 to hit 109,190 packets last year, according to the latest figures from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

Growing in tandem, the volume of blood collected rose by 35 per cent over the last 10 years to 112,713 packets last year, with each packet containing 450ml of blood. Demand is expected to reach more than 220,000 packets by 2030.

"So far, we have been able to meet demand by closely monitoring the daily usage and collection of blood," said Dr Tan Hwee Huang, assistant group director of blood services at HSA. "But we are hoping to get first- time or irregular donors to donate more frequently," she added.

Last year, 71,277 people gave blood. First-time donors made up about a third while another third were irregular donors.

"If we can convince this two-thirds of donors to give just one more time a year, collection will go up by two-thirds," said Dr Tan.

An ageing population needs more blood as the elderly have more chronic diseases and need more operations, for hip and knee issues for instance, and cancer treatments. The elderly with such conditions tend to develop anaemia or are less tolerant of a drop in their haemoglobin level, thus raising the likelihood that they will need a transfusion, said HSA.

About half of the blood packets used last year went to people undergoing general surgery, such as orthopaedic or heart and chest surgery.

According to HSA, blood demand is also expected to rise in tandem with the expansion of the healthcare system in Singapore as there will be greater access to services and medical treatment.

Under the Healthcare 2020 masterplan announced in 2012, four more community hospitals and two general hospitals are planned for this decade. Some have already been opened.

HSA, which oversees blood services here, intends to get people to give blood more often by opening more donation centres near where they live or work. It opened its fourth blood bank in the heart of the shopping mall cluster surrounding the Jurong East interchange last year. Within the next few years, it is planning to open another blood bank in the east.

Young people will also be wooed by the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) to become blood donors. This is because an ageing population will also shrink the donor pool.

Regular donors have to stop giving blood once they reach 70 years old or develop age-related health complications. The age limit for first-time blood donors is 60 years.

SRC is engaging the Ministry of Education to weave in the community bonding and lifesaving aspects of blood donation into the national education and social studies curriculum. This year, SRC started going into junior colleges to talk about volunteerism and blood donation. It is also planning to put up skits for students in primary and secondary schools next year.

Today, young people aged 16 to 25 years old make up 28 per cent of the donor population and SRC hopes to bring it up to 35 per cent.

"Today, only 1.8 per cent of the residential population donate blood, and they carry the burden of the national blood transfusion needs," said Mr Benjamin William, chief executive of SRC.

He added: "Blood donation should be part of the national psyche as it is a social responsibility, towards a resilient society."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2016, with the headline 'Blood donations rise to match surge in demand'. Print Edition | Subscribe