'Forced' blood donation worries Chinese patients

Updated: 2012-08-02 21:52


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NANNING - It never occurred to Huang Haili that she would need to give blood before her aunt, who needs a blood transfusion for her surgery, can be rolled into an operating room.

Huang, a woman in her early 30s who lives in Nanning, capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said that the hospital asked her to persuade relatives and friends to donate blood.

She was required to find 3,000 cc.(milliliter) of blood for her aunt, who suffered serious gastrointestinal disease and the surgery was due the next day.

"I am not a local and all my family members do not live here, so I had to ask over 20 co-workers to help," said Huang who just had her blood drawn at the blood center in Nanning.

After screening, only several of her co-workers were eligible to give blood, she said.

Huang was lucky to find donors in time, as there are cases of people having their operations postponed because they could not find enough blood.

An acute blood shortage in Nanning was to blame for the "mandatory" donations, said Xiao Hongguang, an official with the city's blood center.

The center's blood stock drops sharply every year in summer when college students go on vacation, he said.

In China, college students and soldiers make up the bulk of voluntary blood donors.

The center usually stores an average of 800,000 cc. of blood but the stock has fallen by half over the past few months, according to Xiao.

The nation has been suffering from blood shortages as hospitals are running low on blood because the number of donors is reportedly too small compared with the rising demand for blood.

Currently, only 87 of every 10,000 people on the Chinese mainland donate blood, far less than the average of 454 for every 10,000 people in developed countries and the WHO-recommended figure of 100 for every 10,000, according to data from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

To ease the chronic blood shortages, the country's blood donation law encourages patients whose conditions allow them to choose a date for their operation to have their blood stored for their own use and persuade family members, relatives and friends to give blood for them.

What the country encourages in law is known as "mutual help blood donation."

However, the law only "encourages" people to donate their blood and never stipulates that any one should be forced to donate.

"Such a covert rule is unbelievable. Hospitals are supposed to save lives. They would be taking advantage of patients if they force them to find blood donators when they are in desperate need of surgery," said netizen "fangkainagemeizhi" at a forum on gxsky.com -- a famous local web portal managed from Nanning.

Several hospitals in Nanning all declined Xinhua's request for an interview.

An MOH official told a press conference in June that the "mutual help blood donation" is not mandatory and should not be a major source of clinical blood stock.

It only suits patients who do not need immediate surgery, said Guo Yanhong, deputy director of MOH's medical administration department.

What happens in Nanning is not an isolated case. Many big cities have resorted to the "blood for blood" policy as hospitals are running out of blood due to high demand from both locals and residents from smaller cities or rural areas who come to the better-equipped hospitals in more densely populated areas.

It is important to raise public awareness of the issue as many still think that donating blood will harm their health and could even give them diseases, said Hu Xiaoqin, a professor with the Guangxi University of Chinese Medicine.

The key solutions also include strictly implementing the law, which provides voluntary blood donors preferential treatment when they need blood themselves -- they may be prioritized on waiting lists and exempted from fees, said Zhou Keda, a researcher with the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences.

Those provisions, however, are not well implemented, which can potentially deter would-be donors, Zhou said.