Fewer blood donors in Singapore in 2020, but collection at 5-year high

Last year saw more than 117,000 units of blood collected. PHOTO: SINGAPORE RED CROSS

SINGAPORE - Since he was seven, Mr Jack Goh, 33, has been visiting hospitals every three weeks to receive blood transfusions, and he has to do this for life.

The private-hire driver has thalassaemia major, a blood disorder in which the body does not produce enough haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells.

According to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's website, when there are not enough healthy red blood cells in the body, not enough oxygen is delivered to all the other cells. This may cause a person to feel tired, weak or short of breath.

This condition is called anaemia, and those with thalassaemia may have mild or severe anaemia. Severe anaemia can damage organs and lead to death.

Mr Goh, who is single, said that without regular blood transfusions, he will fall sick, lose his appetite and feel fatigued.

He said: "I cannot continue with daily activities without enough blood. I feel very fortunate there are these blood donors. If not, I won't be alive today."

In 2017, about 116,000 units of blood were collected, which benefited more than 32,000 patients in Singapore.

Last year saw more than 117,000 units of blood collected - the highest in five years, despite a fall in the total number of donors, said the Singapore Red Cross (SRC).

From more than 75,000 donors in 2019, the number fell to around 72,000 last year, the lowest in five years.

The SRC said the amount of blood collected last year could be because of an increase in the percentage of donors who donated more than once. This rose from 37 per cent in 2019 to 42 per cent last year, the highest since 2016.

Donors can donate blood up to four times a year.

The number of new donors last year also increased to 28 per cent from 23 per cent in 2019.

While SRC saw a dip in blood collection at the start of the circuit breaker period last year, it said more donors came forward after media reports on the low daily blood collection and SRC's consistent calls for action on social media.

Mr Benjamin William, SRC's secretary general and chief executive, said: "Our donors responded quickly, and this was very heartening to us."

Mr Teo Zhen Ren, 26, a management consultant, donated for the first time last May, when he heard that the blood banks were struggling to find donors.

Mr Jack Goh, 33, receiving a blood transfusion a few years ago. PHOTO: SINGAPORE RED CROSS

In all, he has donated blood four times. He also asked two friends who had never donated before to join him. "Now, we make it a nice tri-monthly activity to catch up and help out the blood banks," he said.

Ms Vanessa Mostafa, 35, a freelance writer and photographer, has donated blood about two to four times a year since 2009.

She said: "I'm not rich, so I cannot donate in monetary terms. I figured blood is something that I have a lot of, so if someone needs it more than I do, why not?"

But while SRC was able to meet the nation's blood needs last year, more needs to be done to ensure a sufficient and sustainable supply of safe blood for Singapore, said Mr William.

Each person donates one unit of blood each time. To meet daily needs, 400 units of blood are needed every day. And blood has a short shelf life - six weeks for red cells and five days for platelets.

Thus, there is a need for a constant stream of blood donors.

Mr Teo Zhen Ren (right) donating blood for the second time with his sister Ms Teo Ling Li in August 2020. PHOTO: TEO ZHEN REN

SRC said that currently, only about 1.8 per cent of Singapore's population are blood donors, and only about two-fifths of them donate more than twice a year.

Mr William said: "These donors alone carry the burden of the national blood transfusion needs. Blood donation must be recognised as a national responsibility by the general public."

Donors are advised to check HSA's website for blood donation criteria and precautionary measures.

They are also encouraged to make an appointment and fill in the online health questionnaire via giveblood.sg, to shorten the time spent at the blood banks.

Mr William added: "We urge all healthy blood donors, especially rare-blood donors, to donate regularly, at least twice every year, to ensure there is a stable blood supply for our patients."

Ms Vanessa Mostafa donating blood for the 23rd time in May 2020. PHOTO: VANESSA MOSTAFA

Where to donate:

You can make a blood donation at any of the four blood banks:

1. Bloodbank @ HSA

Health Sciences Authority

(Opposite Outram Park MRT station)

11 Outram Road Singapore 169078

2. Bloodbank @ Dhoby Ghaut

Dhoby Xchange

#B1-05 to 10

11 Orchard Road Singapore 238826

3. Bloodbank @ Woodlands

Woodlands Civic Centre

900 South Woodlands Drive

#05-07 Singapore 730900

4. Bloodbank @ Westgate Tower

Westgate Tower

1 Gateway Drive

#10-01 to 05 Singapore 608531

To find community blood drives near your area, visit this website.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.