Beijing faces new blood shortages as donation system scrapped

By Zhang Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/27 18:28:39

A man from Anhui Province donates blood. Photo: IC

Beijing's blood shortage has once again come under the spotlight after the capital's authorities scrapped a replacement donation system in mid-February that allowed patients to enlist friends and family members to donate blood.

The cancellation of the system has, to some extent, curbed the capital's decade-long blood donation black market, which involved agents arranging for people to sell their blood.

Some blood donation agents told the Global Times reporter posing as a family member of a patient that their business has been shrinking and they were looking for other job opportunities.

Several other cities such as Nanning in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Hefei in Anhui Province have suspended the replacement donation system. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the system will be abolished nationwide by the end of March.

However, experts believe that as a country plagued by blood shortages for years, China will have to come up with more incentives to encourage more blood donations. 

Finding loopholes

The replacement donation system, introduced at the end of the 1990s, applies to patients who have been scheduled for surgery to enlist their family members, friends, and others to donate blood for them.

In practice, patients receive a family blood donation form from hospitals that contains their personal information, while their family or friends donate their blood in designated centers and submit the donation certificates to the hospitals. Hospitals then distribute the amount of blood required by the patients for their operations.

However, some illegal agents take advantage of the system, forming business chains and organizing people to make paid donations, jeopardizing the safety of the blood, a spokesperson from the Beijing Red Cross Blood Center (BRCBC) said.

The spokesperson added that the scrapping of the system was the right decision, the Beijing Daily reported.

According to the Beijing News, the system lacks a mechanism that reviews donors' identities and the relationship between donors and patients, creating loopholes that blood donation agents can then exploit.

One agent who said he had been in the business for eight years in Beijing told the Global Times reporter posing as the relative of a patient that he organized a social media group of over 600 people for paid donations, and had been able to close two or three deals a day in previous years.

"But I feel things have changed these days after the system was ended. I've just had my second call in one week," the agent, who requested anonymity, said. He said that he may look for other job opportunities.

Another Beijing agent surnamed Hu has also seen his business shrink. Hu said that he could still organize people to make paid donations in some hospitals using a "more complicated process," but refused to elaborate. Hu charged 2,000 yuan for 400 milliliters of blood. Two paid donation groups on Tencent's instant messaging service QQ were inactive, with no one posting any paid donation advertisements on Monday.

The Beijing Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning announced on February 15 that the capital's health authority would cooperate with police departments to step up the crackdown on blood donation agents.

Low supplies

Several public hospitals contacted by the Global Times, including Peking University People's Hospital, said that they had ended the replacement blood donation program, and patients who require blood for surgery will have to wait for an unspecified amount of time.

"For patients who have already been scheduled for surgery, we will give priority to them if their families have donated blood before, but others have to wait in a queue," said a female medical staffer at a blood transfusion department in a military affiliated hospital in Fengtai district.

The website of the Beijing Red Cross Blood Center said on Monday that donations of blood type O were urgently needed, and that blood type A was in low supply.

To guarantee the stable supply of blood, Beijing health authorities have launched a series of measures in the past two weeks, including establishing more mobile blood donation facilities on the streets, organizing group donations involving colleges and companies and transferring blood from neighboring provinces including Hebei and Shanxi, the Beijing Red Cross Blood Center announced on Sunday.

Zhou Zijun, a professor with the School of Public Health of Peking University, told the Global Times that China has "just enough" blood for use in surgeries, but hospitals often face blood shortages in emergencies.

China relies on unpaid donations to collect blood, and the country needs to come up with more incentive mechanisms to encourage its large population to donate, Zhou said.

Newspaper headline: Donors in demand

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