Globally, there has been an increased demand for blood in both rural and developed areas. In Singapore, to meet the medical needs of a growing and ageing population for the past five years, the Ministry of Health is hoping to encourage more young people to donate blood.

In Malaysia, the Kedah Health Department issued a notice last month, stating that it requires at least 1,800 pints of blood as stockpile before Ramadan—to cater to emergency cases such as accidents; particularly at the end of the fasting month when many return to their respective villages for Aidilfitri or for the holidays.

Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) data revealed that 111,633 units of blood were used last year, compared to 95,100 in 2011 ̶ an  increase of 17%. However, the volume of blood collected is not enough to meet the demand. It has slowed down by about 10% from 104,895 units in 2011 to 115,976 units last year.

Similarly in Malaysia, particularly for the fasting month, the number of blood donors has greatly reduced, said Datuk Dr Norhizan Ismail, director of Kedah Health Department.

Ageing population will increase blood demand

For Singapore, it is partially due to the ageing population poses a double-edged challenge to the national blood situation, said the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

"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," said Mr Gan, adding on that the demand for blood to support more medical and surgical procedures may also continue to rise.

"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," he explained.

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Blood transfusions have not been possible as many do not have timely access to sage blood. The unavailability of blood has led to deaths and many patients suffering from ill-health. Therefore, it urges many countries to have an adequate and reliable supply of safe blood that can be assured by a strong foundation of regular, voluntary and unpaid blood donors.

In the past five years, an average of about 600 regular donors stopped donating every year in Singapore due to age-related illnesses despite the fact that every day many patients undergo major operations and may each need two to four bags of blood.

Victims of accidents may need more than six bags of blood. Others, such as thalassaemia patients 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 Benjamin William, SRC's chief executive.

Younger generations need to understand it as a national priority

Over the years, Singapore's HSA and SRC have opened three satellite blood banks and organised community dries to make blood donations convenient and more accessible.

However, only 73,587 people ̶ 2% of the resident population ̶ donated blood last year and 30,000 patients have received those donations. Mr Gan noted that 60% of blood donors last year only gave blood once.

In Malaysia, efforts have also been stepped up to obtain the required amount through various programmes such as mobile blood donation drives and opening blood donation units at selected mosques and shopping centres at night.

Last year, SRC put in efforts and launched the "Missing Type" campaign, which saw the participation of more 60 organisations including schools, government agencies and retail brands that removed the letters A,B and O ̶ representing the different blood groups ̶ from their websites and social media profiles.

The campaign saw a 16% jump in blood donations that month.

Mr William urged Singaporeans not to be complacent as many members of the public still have the perception that "someone else has donated, so I don't need to donate."

"I think this is something we need to fight," he said, adding that the young people of Singapore needs to be convinced that it is a national priority and should donate blood more regularly. MIMS

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