Meeting The Country's Need For “New Blood”

By: Shaza Al Muzayen | Editor: Sakina Mohamed | Designer: Ummul Syuhaida Othman

KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 (Bernama) -- Blood can’t be stored forever.

Donated red blood cells can last for 35 to 42 days when refrigerated. Plasma products that are stored below freezing temperature last up to three years. Platelet products, which have the shortest lifespan out of all, only last for five days.

This is why in March 2024, the Ministry of Health (MoH) stated that Malaysia needs at least a daily supply of 2,000 bags of blood to meet the needs of patients nationwide.

That is an average of 730,000 bags of blood to meet the projected needs of patients in the country, particularly those in need of transfusions.

New Donors Always Needed

Despite regular contributions from Malaysia’s donors, the demand for blood often surpasses the supply, especially during festive seasons and holiday periods when accidents and medical emergencies are more frequent.

Head of Blood Procurement at the National Blood Centre (PDN), Dr Thane Moze Darumalinggam, tells Bernama that the donor population in Malaysia has yet to achieve a self-sufficient state.

Dr Thane Moze A/P Darumalinggam, Head of Blood Procurement, National Blood Centre Malaysia

“To achieve this, recruitment of new donors must be a continuous process. However, blood donors currently make up only about 2.3 percent of the population,” says Dr Thane, who is also a Transfusion Medicine Specialist.

This is far from the international standard recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is five percent.

To remedy this, nationwide transfusion services are aiming to increase the country’s blood donation rate by 2030 to between 35 and 40 donors for every 1,000 people.

In other words, around 3.5 to 4 percent of the Malaysian population need to become blood donors by 2030.

Age Matters, Too

According to Dr Thane, the existing blood donor population in Malaysia is moving towards becoming an ageing one.

This means regular donors are reaching the maximum eligible age for blood donation, which is 70 years old.

“For now, not many studies have been done to support blood donation and its impact on individuals beyond age 70. This makes it crucial to recruit youths aged between 17 to 24 years old. They as the younger generation will help ensure a sustainable blood supply for the country,” she says.

Data from PDN between 2012 and 2023 shows that the recruitment of new blood donors has been slow to return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. 

The largest number of new donors registered was in 2015, with 183,171 people. Blood donations decreased in 2016 (169,744 people) and 2017 (156,942 people) before picking up in 2018 with 163,316 new donors.

There was a small decrease in new donors in 2019 (157,808 people), before dropping sharply in 2020 (115,606 people) and 2021 (96,702 people). The figures showed a recovery in 2022 with 120,929 new donors, but it dropped again in 2023 with only 118,285 donors registered.

To prevent seasonal shortages, early efforts have been initiated by transfusion services to raise public awareness, especially among youths.

“Our initiatives include public educational messages about blood and blood donation on popular social media platforms, organising educational talks and blood donation campaigns in universities and colleges, and arranging field trips to blood collection centres for school and university students,” says Dr Thane.

“We are also working with numerous mobile blood organisers as part of our effort to reach members of the public who can’t reach our static donation centres.”

In 2023, a total of 575,403 donations were made. This was a 2.78 percent increase from 2022, which had 559,827 donations. Both years showed an improvement in blood donations after the slump experienced during the years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Importance of Donating Blood

The limited window to use donated blood underscores the need for Malaysia to have a constant and steady supply of blood donations, especially for patients in need of transfusions.

Blood transfusions are a necessity for various health conditions.

Transfusions are needed by women facing complications during pregnancy and childbirth, patients with severe trauma from accidents, surgical procedures, and for cancer patients. It is also needed for treating patients with blood disorders such as anaemia, sickle cell disease, thalassaemia, and haemophilia.

In Malaysia, blood transfusions are also used for severe dengue cases, known as Dengue Shock Syndrome or Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever.

While blood donations are important for maintaining a stable blood supply, it is crucial to ensure that the donations come from a wide range of blood groups.

Data from the past year shows that in Malaysia, Type AB blood was the least donated blood type at 5.5 percent. This is followed by Type A blood at 24.7 percent, Type B blood at 27 percent, and Type O blood at 42.7 percent.

Source: Ministry of Health Malaysia, National Blood Centre Malaysia
The data in the image shows the blood groups of donated blood in Malaysia in the past one year
(June 23, 2023 - June 22, 2024).

Not Everyone Can Donate Blood

Safe blood comes from safe donors. In Malaysia, blood is procured from voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors.

PDN has established specific blood donor selection criteria that potential donors must fulfil before proceeding with their blood donations. Those who do not meet these criteria will be deferred from blood donation. This is a precautionary measure taken to protect the blood donor during the blood donation process as well as the patients who are receiving the transfusions.

“The donated blood is also carefully screened for transfusion-transmissible infections, such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis,” says Dr Thane.

Who Can Donate Blood?

Malaysians who want to donate blood must be in overall good health and not on any medication. Donors should be between the ages of 17 to 70 years old, with specific conditions for certain age groups: Those aged 17 years old must have written consent from their parents or guardians, and those aged 61 to 70 years must undergo a yearly checkup that proves they are healthy enough to donate blood.

Additionally, potential donors must weigh at least 45kg, have had a minimum of five hours of sleep the night before donating, and have eaten a meal at least four hours prior to donation.Non-Malaysians who want to donate blood in Malaysia are allowed to do so, if they fulfil the same criteria set for Malaysians, have been staying in Malaysia for more than one year, and have a permanent address in the country.

Who Can’t Donate Blood?

For health and safety reasons, certain individuals are ineligible to donate blood. These include those who have tested positive for HIV, are suffering from or are carriers of Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C or have a Syphilis infection or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also excluded from donating blood. Furthermore, women in the first three days of their menstrual period are advised not to donate but can do so from the fourth day onwards.

Individuals involved in high-risk lifestyles, such as using illegal intravenous drugs, having multiple sex partners, or engaging in commercial sex work, are also ineligible to donate blood.

Privileges for Blood Donors

In Malaysia, local blood donors are rewarded with medical privileges that they can access at government hospitals. These frequency-based privileges serve as an appreciation for their life-saving contributions and aim to encourage more people to donate regularly.

Although these privileges have been offered to donors for a number of years, it has recently been updated with newer incentives for blood donors.

“The privileges offered to blood donors include selective free treatments such as dental treatments, inpatient and outpatient treatments, and admission to first or second-class wards according to availability of respective government hospitals.

“The Transfusion Medicine Services and MoH Malaysia are continuously improving the privileges offered to blood donors as a token of appreciation and gratitude to them,” said Dr Thane.

More detailed information on these privileges can be found through MySejahtera and PDN’s website.

Apart from the above privileges, blood donors are also honoured on World Blood Donor Day, which is celebrated on June 14 every year. Awards are given to blood donors as a sign of appreciation for their invaluable contribution.

Search Trends

Based on 2023 search data from Google Trends, the following were what most people in Malaysia were curious about when googling ‘blood donation’.

Among the breakout queries for that year (in descending order) were:

(Google uses the term “breakout” to mark interest in search terms that grew by more than 5000 percent.)

Celebrating World Blood Donor Day 2024

In conjunction with the 20th anniversary of World Blood Donor Day, which was first held on June 14, 2004, the WHO has announced this year’s theme to be “20 years of celebrating giving: thank you blood donors!”.

Dr Thane said that the annual global theme of World Blood Donor Day changes to recognise the goodwill and generosity of those who have come forth to donate their blood for other unknown individuals.

"Such acts of kindness over the past 20 years not only deserve recognition but also serve as an exemplary motivating factor for the public and the new generation of blood donors. They are our unsung heroes, and to them, we say: 'Thank you, blood donors!',” she said.

Eligible individuals interested in donating blood can do so at static blood donation centres located at PDN, the PDN Donation Suite at Mid Valley Megamall, St John Ambulance’s Blood Donation Suite at IOI City Mall Putrajaya, and St John Ambulance’s Blood Donation Suite at 1 Utama.

Mobile donation centres are also available to be visited by the public as part of the ongoing blood donation campaign. Further details on blood donation events can be found on PDN’s website and events calendar.