China's blood donations dry up as COVID-19 outbreak quells giving

China's blood donations dry up as COVID-19 outbreak quells giving

Medical workers in protective suits inspect equipment at a blood donation room
Medical workers in protective suits inspect equipment at a blood donation room of the Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei province, China Febr 14, 2020. (PHoto: cnsphoto via REUTERS)

HONG KONG: The coronavirus epidemic is draining China’s reserves of a life-saving commodity: blood.

Blood collection centres around the country have reported sharp drops in donations, with one even issuing a “red alert” as stocks dwindle. Doctors and other medical personnel have been donating, according to doctors and reports in state media.

"Blood reserves have reached their lowest levels in history, and the blood supply for clinical use is facing an unprecedented challenge," warned the blood collection centre in the city of Jining on Feb 10 on social media platform WeChat.

While hospitals are postponing elective surgeries until after the epidemic is controlled, cancer patients, people suffering from blood diseases and critical care patients still need transfusions.

The shortage highlights how the epidemic has exacerbated existing problems in China's healthcare sector. Blood supplies have long been tight. 

READ: China to waive tariffs on US medical imports amid virus outbreak

With quarantine measures to prevent the coronavirus - known as COVID-19 - from spreading limiting large gatherings, donation centres are struggling to match regular levels of giving by students, military members, employees at state-owned companies and walk-in contributions.

“The number of people on the street has dropped abruptly, the amount of blood donated has dropped suddenly,” a blood collection centre in the city of Linyi, in northeast China, warned on WeChat earlier this month.

The city of Nanjing needed daily donations from 300 people to meet demand, but only about 10 people a day had donated blood recently, the Jiangsu Province Blood Centre noted on its website on Feb 6.

The Jiangxi Province Blood Centre, which recently issued a "red alert" of low blood supply, sent text messages to more than 30,000 people urging them to donate, according to a Feb 4 post on its website.

Most of the requests are for traditional blood donations, but at least one blood centre said it was also collecting plasma from recovered coronavirus patients for use in treating the disease.

READ: Chinese doctors 'using plasma therapy' on COVID-19 patients

Shanghai's collection centre noted in a WeChat post this month that more transfusions could be required for coronavirus patients with severe respiratory failure that have to rely on machines to support their heart and lung function.

Reached by phone, blood centres in Shanghai, Jiangxi and Jining declined to comment. Jiangsu's blood centre confirmed that donations had slowed dramatically.

With many surgeries postponed, the real increase in demand for blood could come after the epidemic is controlled.

Some collection centres promoted donations as a way of supporting the fight against the epidemic. 

Bloodline, a Shanghai-based donation group, launched a drive earlier this month to help address the shortage. "We are trying to give back to the community," said Ashish Maskay, an orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of Bloodline.

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Source: Reuters