SINGAPORE: Goh Chun Hui has been suffering from Thalassemia major, an inherited blood disorder, since he was three years old. The condition means that the 28-year-old has to undergo a blood transfusion every three weeks, each session lasting about seven hours.
Without new blood, Chun Hui may feel weak or sick. He could die.
"I used to undergo blood transfusion every two months. As I grew older, when I reached my teens, my body requires more blood. As the years pass, now I require three units of blood," he said. Each unit contains 450ml of blood.
To ensure Singapore has a sufficient supply of blood to help people like Chun Hui, the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) is calling for more people to give blood.
BLOOD NEEDS WILL RISE BY 3 TO 5 PER CENT BY 2030: SRC
Currently, only about 1.8 per cent of Singapore's residential population are blood donors and demand is expected to increase as the population ages, said SRC's secretary-general Benjamin William.
“When the population ages, more and more people would not be able to donate blood. But at the same time, anecdotally, we all know that the older we get; the more likely we need an operation or a procedure which needs blood transfusion,” he said.
"The blood needs to rise by about 3 to 5 per cent yearly," Mr William added. Last year, 109,190 units of blood were used for transfusions and by 2030, it is estimated that the demand will double to 220,000 units each year.
Although there is enough blood to cater for the country’s needs, the secretary general of the SRC said Singaporeans should not take blood sufficiency for granted.
"We have never had to turn away someone who needed transfusion urgently. The fact that we have always been able to meet current needs has also engendered a sense of complacency among Singaporeans … we can never be certain that we'll never face a single emergency," Mr William said. “We should not be complacent.”
Despite more people coming forward to donate blood – the donor pool has grown by 39 per cent from 51,000 in 2005 to 71,000 in 2015 – many challenges lie ahead as the population ages.
Mr William cited the need to grow the pool of young donors – below the age of 25 – from the current 28 per cent to 35 per cent through more awareness programmes. "It's for us to have greater sustainability," said Mr William.
"People in school and education institutions who have reached the donation age of 16 and above they are caught up with their studies and to get them to make an effort to donate blood is a challenge," he added.
But no matter how busy he is, 22-year-old Benjamin Ang will make it a point to donate blood regularly.
Inspired by his father who is a regular blood donor, Benjamin started his blood donation journey at a young age of 16, and since then, he has donated a total of 52 times, including whole blood and blood platelets.
“After my first blood donation, this really nice nurse kind of thanked me for just taking 15 minutes of my time and told me that ‘by doing so I’m saving three lives in the process’. That really impacted me and it really solidified my passion to keep on donating blood regularly,” said Benjamin.
NEW CAMPAIGN LAUNCH TO RAISE AWARENESS
To address rising demand for blood, and hopefully get more young donors to give blood, the SRC has embarked on a campaign to help raise awareness about the importance of donating blood.
Called the Missing Type campaign, which originated in England and North Wales, it involves participating organisations dropping letters from their signage and logos such as ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘O’, which represent the three main blood types.
A total of 32 organisations are on board the week-long campaign, said the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and the SRC in a joint media release on Tuesday (Aug 16).
The Singapore Botanic Gardens has removed the ABO letters on the signage at its Tanglin, Nassim and Bukit Timah entrance gates, while Mediacorp newspaper TODAY has also removed the 'O' from its print masthead.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens has removed the ABO letters on the signage at its Tanglin, Nassim and Bukit Timah entrance gates. (Photo: Olivia Siong)
“We hope to get the conversation going ... we hope that as a result of the general awareness, it'll lead to action and that some people will be sufficiently motivated having heard about the blood type to go and donate blood," said Mr William.
Benjamin, who will be reading veterinary medicine in the University of Glasgow next month, said he will still be donating blood even when he is overseas.
“If you are committed to something you should just keep on doing it. Because you already know the importance and the value of platelets and that can potentially save someone else's lives,”
For Chun Hui, he is especially grateful to blood donors like Benjamin.
“There is no combination of words that could describe how I feel for the blood donors. Without them I won't be able to continue to live on. They are more than life savers to me – a life saver will save you from the past till now but they actually go beyond that; they are able to help you continue to live on,” he said.