JAKARTA: Indonesia is facing a blood shortage brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fasting month of Ramadan, officials said.
The problem is prevalent nationwide but capital Jakarta and other COVID-19 red zones are facing a bigger crisis, with the drop in blood supply started back in March, head of the Indonesian Red Cross blood donation unit Linda Lukitari Waseso said.
This is most likely because these places have implemented the large-scale social restrictions which limit people’s movement.
"Jakarta currently is seeing a blood shortage of up to 70 per cent, while the nation’s average blood shortage is 20 per cent," Dr Waseso told CNA, adding that the shortage ranges between 30 and 60 per cent in different localities in Indonesia.
With offices closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, blood donation drives at these venues have to be called off, leading to a significant dip in blood supply.
With the military and police force responded to the call for blood donations, the crisis was temporarily relieved but blood banks began to dry up again in April when fasting month arrived.
Blood donors are urgently needed as some patients need routine blood transfusion, Dr Waseso said. These include thalassemia patients and blood cancer patients.
“And there are cases of people who suddenly need blood, such as accident victims," she said.
To replenish the blood banks, local chapters of the Indonesian Red Cross are dispatching teams right to the donors' doorsteps. One even encourages people to donate blood by rewarding them with food items or sanitising products.
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DIP IN SUPPLY IN JAKARTA
Jakarta needs about 1,000 blood bags daily, but at the moment only 300 bags are supplied, said Dr Salimar Salim, head of blood transfusion unit of Indonesian Red Cross' Jakarta chapter.
She explained that Jakarta has always seen a decrease in blood supply during the fasting month of Ramadan because people tend to worry that donating blood may cause them to break their fast, or make them dizzy.
The shortage in supply worsened this year with COVID-19 forcing people to stay at home.
To tackle this problem, the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Red Cross is sending teams to homes or neighbourhoods if there are at least 10 people in the area who want to donate blood.
However, Dr Salim noted that the drop in number of blood donors is not just a matter of mobility due to social distancing, but also the fear of being infected during the donation process.
“Many people are afraid that they can contract COVID-19 while donating blood," she said.
Dr Salim explained that the donation process is safe, and that strict physical distancing is imposed at the Indonesian Red Cross headquarters.
All staff members are also equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) and good hygiene is practised during the process, she said.
In previous years, Jakarta was still plagued with blood supply shortage after Ramadan ends because most people would be out of town for the Idul Fitri celebrations.
Dr Salim said the Idul Fitri exodus ban this year could mean an earlier end to the shortage, with people coming forward to donate blood once they are not fasting.
She explained that Ramadan should not hinder people from donating blood as it is safe to do so two hours after breaking their fast.
The blood donation unit is open 24 hours so people can donate blood at night, she said.
Gojek riders and big bike communities are also helping to replenish the blood banks, she added.
FREE BASIC NECESSITIES AS A TOKEN OF APPRECIATION
Neighbouring city Tangerang is also facing the same problem with a blood supply shortage of 70 per cent, said the public relations head at the Tangerang chapter of the Indonesian Red Cross.
Mr Ade Kurniawan said that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and Ramadan, they received about 350 blood bags daily but in April the number fell to 150.
At the start of Ramadan, only 100 blood bags were donated per day.
Like Jakarta, they decided to accommodate donors by visiting them at their homes but it was still not enough.
They then quickly came up with the idea of presenting basic necessities to donors as a token of appreciation.
Four types of hampers are available and they contain items such as cup noodles, rice, cooking oil, hand sanitiser, masks and hand soaps.
“Thank god people are interested,” Mr Kurniawan told CNA.
Since they introduced the programme about three weeks ago, the number of donors has increased to 250 people daily.
But he stressed that public awareness on the importance of donating blood and the safety of the donation process amid the pandemic is key to ensuring adequate blood supply.
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Mr Mohammad Rizky Caisar, a 28-year-old Tangerang resident, has been donating his blood regularly for the last 10 years and is still doing so under the current situation.
“I don’t need to be afraid because there is a procedure in place. Even though there is no guarantee that I won’t be infected, I am sure that good intention will invite good result,” he told CNA.