Tra­di­tion and false claims prompt con­cerns

China Daily - - CHINA - By WANG XIAOYU Con­tact the writer at wangx­i­aoyu@chi­

* The Amer­i­can Red Cross, the New York Blood Cen­ter and Blood Sys­tem Inc es­ti­mate that the num­ber of blood dona­tions re­ported cov­ered 60 per­cent of all dona­tions in those years.

In early De­cem­ber, Liu Peipei, a sopho­more at Ts­inghua Univer­sity in Bei­jing, used her phone to regis­ter for an on-cam­pus blood do­na­tion ses­sion the fol­low­ing week.

The regis­tra­tion sys­tem, em­bed­ded in the univer­sity’s of­fi­cial app, was de­signed by a com­puter en­gi­neer­ing ma­jor in 2014 to as­sist the grow­ing num­ber of stu­dents do­nat­ing blood.

“Mak­ing a do­na­tion is on my yearend wish list,” Liu said. “I needed to act fast be­cause the places were quickly snapped up.”

The Bei­jing Red Cross Blood Cen­ter dis­patches two blood­mo­biles to the univer­sity on five sep­a­rate days every year.

“Each ses­sion at­tracts at least 300 donors, and one time there were more than 1,000,” Liu said.

A decade ago, an on­line regis­tra­tion sys­tem for blood dona­tions would have been deemed over-the-top be­cause only a small num­ber of stu­dents gave blood.

The up­surge seen at the univer­sity is indica­tive of the progress China is mak­ing in the trans­for­ma­tion of blood do­na­tion from a mi­nor­ity choice into a main­stream ac­tiv­ity.

Be­fore the Blood Do­na­tion Law took ef­fect on Oct 1, 1998, the coun­try’s blood trans­fu­sion pro­gram was rocked by a scan­dal in which tens of thou­sands of peo­ple were in­fected with HIV af­ter be­ing given tainted blood bought from unau­tho­rized, un­screened donors.

The law stip­u­lated that an al­tru­is­tic do­na­tion sys­tem should be im­ple­mented. It also pro­hib­ited the com­mer­cial pro­vi­sion of blood to en­sure that it was not viewed as a com­mod­ity, but as a gift, and foster a greater sense of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

About 15 mil­lion donors pro­vided 4,960 met­ric tons of blood in 2017, com­pared with 800 tons from 328,000 peo­ple in 1998, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion.

Mean­while, the 2016 Global Sta­tus Re­port on Blood Safety and Avail­abil­ity, pub­lished by the UN at the end of 2017, showed that China has strength­ened safety checks on dona­tions, while im­ple­ment­ing a full range of tests at blood banks and adopt­ing safety stan­dards equal to those in de­vel­oped coun­tries.

Shen­zhen, in the south­ern prov­ince of Guangdong, has been the lodestar of China’s eco­nomic growth in the past four decades. It was also the birth­place of the first re­gional reg­u­la­tion on al­tru­is­tic blood do­na­tion, which came into force in Novem­ber 1995.

“For a while, we were un­sure about the al­tru­is­tic ap­proach, and de­trac­tors ques­tioned if such a method was ac­tu­ally fea­si­ble in China,” said Lan Yux­iao, from the blood do­na­tion depart­ment at the Shen­zhen Blood Cen­ter.

The ques­tions were not with­out foun­da­tion, be­cause in the early and

The num­ber of peo­ple in China do­nat­ing blood has risen in re­cent years. For ex­am­ple, in 2016, the coun­try recorded 10.5 un­paid blood dona­tions per 1,000 peo­ple. How­ever, that lagged be­hind 32.1 per 1,000 in high-in­come coun­tries and 14.9 in up­per-mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said.

In June, Zhou Changqiang, deputy head of the med­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion depart­ment at the Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion, said blood sup­plies are of­ten on a knife-edge as a re­sult of the ris­ing se­nior pop­u­la­tion and older women giv­ing birth, which re­sults in mid-1990s, com­pul­sory dona­tions by col­lege stu­dents and civil ser­vants was a com­mon way of main­tain­ing blood stocks, she said.

On May 8, 1993, the city launched its first of­fi­cial drive to pro­mote vol­un­tary do­na­tion, but only four peo­ple ar­rived to sign up. The next day, only one of them showed up as promised to give blood, Shen­zhen re­ported.

The unin­spir­ing start didn’t dampen en­thu­si­asm, though. Two years later to the day, the cen­ter in­tro­duced the city’s first blood­mo­bile.

“We were ner­vous at the begin­ning, but the donors gath­ered around the ve­hi­cle were quite en­thu­si­as­tic. They of­fered a glim­mer of hope and en­cour­aged us to con­tinue our work,” Lan said, adding that 34 peo­ple made dona­tions dur­ing the blood­mo­bile’s maiden trip.

From 1995 to 1998, the cen­ter ramped up its fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing four new blood­mo­biles, to ac­com­mo­date the grow­ing num­ber of donors. In Oc­to­ber 1998, Shen­zhen be­came the first city to pro­vide blood for clin­i­cal use solely through vol­un­tary dona­tions.

When re­call­ing the tough times, Lan con­ceded that the idea of re­ward­ing donors with money and/or goods flick­ered through her mind. “But we agreed to honor the prin­ci­pal of al­tru­is­tic do­na­tion and never pro­vided any form of re­ward,” she said.

In­stead, her pub­lic­ity work fo­cused on en­hanc­ing a sense of pride and joy at ex­tend­ing a help­ing hand to those in need.

“The goal was to em­pha­size that do­nat­ing blood is an honor­able thing to do and should be vol­un­tary, and also to break the link be­tween do­nat­ing blood and re­ceiv­ing a re­ward in terms of cash or paid leave,” she said.

She noted that by the 1990s, many coun­tries had al­ready im­ple­mented a pol­icy of vol­un­tary blood dona­tions.

“Only in this way can we en­sure safety from the point of ori­gin (the donor’s vein) be­cause peo­ple who give blood out of self-in­ter­est are prone to con­ceal health prob­lems, such as hepati­tis, AIDS and other in­fec­tious dis­eases,” she said.

That mes­sage was echoed by Zeng Jin­feng, Lan’s col­league and head of the cen­ter’s clin­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory, which mon­i­tors the safety of dona­tions.

Zeng said that de­spite the use of ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy that weeds out unau­tho­rized donors and iden­ti­fies con­tam­i­nated blood, a num­ber of viruses are beyond the scope of the lab’s tests.

“It is cru­cial that we guar­an­tee blood safety from the point of ori­gin. It’s the most ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive way,” he said.

The in­tro­duc­tion of the Blood Do­na­tion Law forced cities na­tion­wide to adopt fresh mea­sures. ris­ing de­mand for health­care ser­vices.

The bal­anc­ing act is also af­fected by sea­sonal in­flu­ences, such as ex­treme weather and the Spring Fes­ti­val mi­gra­tion when peo­ple leave big cities where blood cen­ters are sit­u­ated.

In July, the blood cen­ter in Chongqing, South­west China, warned of low re­serves of blood when swel­ter­ing heat led to fewer peo­ple vis­it­ing do­na­tion fa­cil­i­ties but an up­surge of ac­ci­dents in the con­struc­tion sec­tor boosted de­mand for the lim­ited sup­ply, CQ News re­ported.

Me­dia re­ports in­di­cate that capi­tals, in­clud­ing Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince, Haikou, Hainan prov­ince, and Nan­ning, Guangxi Zhuang au­tonomous

On Dec 13, the Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion con­firmed that all blood for clin­i­cal use is now ac­quired solely through vol­un­tary do­na­tion.

How­ever, peo­ple who work in blood cen­ters still dis­pute what con­sti­tutes an al­tru­is­tic blood do­na­tion — is it the amount of sat­is­fac­tion gained or the in­cen­tives of­fered to donors?

Shen­zhen holds reg­u­lar cer­e­monies to give com­mem­o­ra­tive badges and of­fi­cial thank-you let­ters to donors af­ter their 50th, 100th and 200th con­tri­bu­tion.

Mean­while, the Bei­jing Red Cross Blood Cen­ter of­fers a seven-day med­i­cal in­sur­ance pro­gram for donors, begin­ning the day the blood is col­lected, to pro­vide a safety net in the event of an ad­verse re­ac­tion.

Small gifts are pop­u­lar at most blood col­lec­tion fa­cil­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, at Ts­inghua Univer­sity stu­dent donors re­ceive scarves em­broi­dered with the Red Cross sym­bol to mark their par­tic­i­pa­tion in on-cam­pus blood do­na­tion ses­sions.

How­ever, some peo­ple are con­cerned that of­fer­ing in­cen­tives, rang­ing from paid leave to school cred­its, risks re­vert­ing to the dis­cred­ited sys­tem of paid dona­tions.

For ex­am­ple, Xin­lian Col­lege, which is af­fil­i­ated to He­nan Nor­mal Univer­sity in the north­ern prov­ince of He­bei, sparked con­tro­versy when it an­nounced that stu­dents who give blood will be awarded an ex­tra 30 school hours, amount­ing to two or three cred­its, He­nan Daily re­ported in June.

A sopho­more at the univer­sity, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said she no­ticed a rise in the num­ber of her peers search­ing for in­for­ma­tion about do­nat­ing blood af­ter the an­nounce­ment.

“No­body said flat out that they do­nated to earn the cred­its, but hon­estly, it felt like a tacit agree­ment when I lined up for the blood­mo­bile with my class­mates,” she said.

Also, reg­u­la­tions in Qing­hai, Hainan and Yun­nan three prov­inces stip­u­late that res­i­dents are en­ti­tled to one or two days paid leave af­ter they give blood.

De­spite the na­tional guide­lines, some com­pa­nies are not only of­ten pro­vid­ing re­gion, have raised con­cerns about the re­duc­tion in blood stocks for clin­i­cal use dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val when col­lege stu­dents and mi­grant work­ers — who ac­count for the ma­jor­ity of blood donors — travel to their home­towns.

Zhao Shum­ing, deputy head of the clin­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory at the South­west Hospi­tal in Chongqing, said peo­ple are de­terred from giv­ing blood by the tra­di­tional be­lief that do­na­tion can harm health and af­fect the vi­tal essence, or jingqi, in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine.

“Also, the spread of the HIV virus in vil­lages in He­nan prov­ince in the 1980s (when blood was col­lected from un­screened donors) cre­ated neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions about do­nat­ing. More­over,

Liu Jiang, di­rec­tor of the Bei­jing Red Cross Blood Cen­ter, said the cen­ter has been work­ing to de­ter­mine “an ap­pro­pri­ate de­gree of rec­i­proc­ity for blood donors” with the China In­sti­tute for Phi­lan­thropy and So­cial In­no­va­tion at Ren­min Univer­sity of China and the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences.

“One re­search pa­per sug­gested that the value of the com­bined ma­te­rial re­wards, cash and gifts, should not ex­ceed one-third of a donor’s daily in­come,” he said, adding that the au­thors at­tempted to clas­sify prospec­tive donors by age, pro­fes­sion and lo­ca­tion.

“For in­stance, some give blood for the sole pur­pose of help­ing so­ci­ety, while oth­ers take the perks into con­sid­er­a­tion,” he said.

“An ideal sce­nario would al­low us to tai­lor our pub­lic­ity ef­forts and do­na­tion poli­cies to suit.”

How­ever, these stud­ies of­ten fail to gauge the sat­is­fac­tion a per­son can gain from help­ing oth­ers by do­nat­ing blood, he added.

The Cap­i­tal Vol­un­teer As­so­ci­a­tion for Blood Do­na­tion, af­fil­i­ated to the cen­ter, has a list of about 70,000 fre­quent donors in Bei­jing. It has or­ga­nized events for them, in­clud­ing jog­ging events in for­est parks.

“More than 400 donors and their fam­i­lies joined us, and I was amazed at the in­ten­sity of the bonds we have built through blood dona­tions,” Liu Jiang said.

The same sense of so­cial en­gage­ment and be­long­ing thrives on the cam­pus of Ts­inghua Univer­sity.

Cao Yuli, head of the stu­dent branch of the Ts­inghua Univer­sity Red Cross As­so­ci­a­tion, said do­nat­ing blood is the norm and a cul­ture on cam­pus.

“En­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to do­nate blood con­trib­utes to fos­ter­ing the spirit of char­ity as part of our col­lege ed­u­ca­tion. When one stands in line with hun­dreds of other stu­dents, chat­ting while wait­ing, the am­biance is more in­ti­mate than head­ing for a street blood­mo­bile alone,” she said.

“We are proud of do­nat­ing blood. We also take pride in do­nat­ing as Ts­inghua stu­dents.” many peo­ple still be­lieve blood is a com­mod­ity,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to in­grained stereo­types and fears, ad­vo­cates of vol­un­tary do­na­tion have been the sub­ject of ru­mors and mis­lead­ing re­ports.

In Septem­ber, a post on a pop­u­lar mi­cro blog falsely claimed that the Shen­zhen Blood Cen­ter in Guangdong prov­ince had sus­pended screen­ing and test­ing of donors, re­sult­ing in many re­cip­i­ents con­tract­ing HIV, ac­cord­ing to re­ports on China Na­tional Ra­dio.

“Now and then, a post will pop up on my so­cial me­dia feed say­ing do­nat­ing blood raises the risk of con­tract­ing all kinds of viruses or can make you gain weight,” Zhao said.

“These ru­mors fuel anx­i­ety about giv­ing blood. It’s cru­cial for au­thor­i­ties to fund pro­grams to foster a healthy and ob­jec­tive view of blood do­na­tion.”

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