Ageing population prompts surge in demand for blood

People donating blood at Bloodbank@HSA in Outram Road.
People donating blood at Bloodbank@HSA in Outram Road.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Demand for blood to meet the medical needs of a growing and greying population have intensified over the last five years.

Latest data from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) show that 111,633 units of blood were used last year, up by 17 per cent from 95,100 in 2011.

Yet the volume of blood collected has grown at a slower pace of 10 per cent to 115,976 units from 104,895 in 2011.

This is partly because the ageing population pose a double-edged challenge to the national blood situation, said the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Saturday (June 10).

"On the one hand, an ageing population means blood demands will increase. The elderly are more likely to develop age-related medical diseases like heart disease and stroke. The demand for blood to support more medical and surgical procedures may also continue to rise," said Mr Gan at an award ceremony to recognise the efforts of regular blood donors at the Singapore Sports Hub on Saturday, which was also World Blood Donor Day.

Unlike younger patients, the elderly may have a lower tolerance for anaemia due to their underlying medical conditions and are more likely to need blood transfusions to prevent complications, he said.

"On the other hand, our blood donor pool may shrink, as regular donors can no longer give blood if ill health strikes when they get older," Mr Gan added as he presented the Medal of Life award to 13 donors who has each made over 200 blood donations to date.

In the last five years, an average of about 600 regular donors per year have stopped donating due to age-related illnesses.

Every day, many patients undergo major operations and they may need two to four bags of blood each. Accident survivors may need more than six bags of blood for emergency treatment. Then there are others, such as Thalassemia patients, who need regular blood transfusions.

"Beyond personal and national emergencies, there are people who need blood every few weeks throughout their lives in order to live," said chief executive of SRC, Benjamin William.

Over the years, the Health Sciences Authority and the Red Cross have opened three satellite bloodbanks and organised community blood drives around the island to make blood donation as convenient and accessible as possible.

Last year, 73,587 people- or about 2 per cent of the resident population here- stepped forward to donate blood that sustained the lives of 30,000 patients.

However, Mr Gan noted that 60 per cent of the blood donors last year gave blood only once.

That is why the SRC has been getting creative in its efforts to generate awareness of blood donation. Last year, it launched the "Missing Type" campaign that had more than 60 organisations, from schools to government agencies to retail brands, removing the letters A, B and O (which represented the different blood groups) from their websites and social media profiles. The campaign resulted in a 16 per cent jump in blood donations that month.

70-year-old Mrs Lu T. Aida made her 100th donation last year. On Saturday, she received a Diamond award for her contributions.

In 1983, her father-in-law had liver cancer and needed O-type blood. She felt helpless then because being of blood type A, she could not donate. So she prayed and asked God to heal her father-in-law and she would, in turn, donate blood to help others. Her father-in-law died shortly after but she continued to honour her pledge to God for the next three decades of her life.

She said: "It's a joy to be able to help others."