The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruption not only in the country’s healthcare system but also in the collection of blood supply, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
According to Maritess Estrella, program manager of the Department of Health’s (DOH) National Voluntary Blood Services Program, there has been a decline in the amount of blood being collected by blood banks since the start of the pandemic.
“Our blood collection went down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is one of the challenges that we have to hurdle during this time,” she said.
Estrella noted that in 2017, the DOH received 1.2 million units of blood from donors and this went up to 1.31 million units in 2018 and to 1.38 million units in 2019.
In 2020 when the government imposed community lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19, blood collection went down to 1.04 million units.
Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon has appealed to the public to donate blood in line with June 14’s celebration of World Blood Donor Day.
Gordon underscored it is especially important to make sure that the country’s stocks of blood are adequately replenished when there is a health crisis. “The people’s need for blood doesn’t stop. PRC will always be open to help. Donate now. The blood that you will donate today will save lives tomorrow,” he added.
He said one donor can save seven individuals because one donated blood is equivalent to seven units of blood platelet concentrates.
A person who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 can still donate blood 28 days after they received the jabs. Gordon maintained the pandemic should not deter a person from donating blood to PRC.
He assured that they observe strict health protocols during blood donation, and all technical staff are tested regularly to ensure the safety of all blood donors.
“Blood is a true humanitarian gift that can only be given by one human being to another. Let us give blood and help save lives,” he added.
Philippine Blood Center (PBC)head Dr. Pedrito Tagayuna has made similar appeal to blood donors. “It is saddening that our blood collection had dropped significantly because of the pandemic. It is down to just 10 percent,” he said.
Tagayuna added that it is safe to donated blood at PBC because the facility is not based in hospital so they do not have COVID-19 patients.
“If they want to donate, we can pick them up to bring them to our blood center. The center is not attached to any hospital so there is no risk that they will get infected in our facility,” he assured.
Voluntary blood donation
It was in the early ‘90s when the DOH campaigned for voluntary blood donation after commercialized blood banks mushroomed across the country.
There were incidents when donors were selling their blood to these blood centers, thus, putting in question the safety and quality of their donated blood because they could lie about their health condition.
According to DOH, there are certain conditions that prevent a person from donating blood temporarily or permanently.
Among the temporary conditions are pregnancy; acute fever; recent alcoholic intake, ear or body piercing and tattooing and surgery.
Not allowed to donate blood at any time are those with cancer; cardiac disease; severe lung disease; Hepatitis B and C; HIV/ AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases; high risk occupation such as prostitution; and unexplained weight loss of more than 5 kg. over 6 months; chronic alcoholism, among others.
In 1994, Congress passed Republic Act 7719, or the National Blood Service Act of 1994 but this was questioned by the commercial blood banks before the Supreme Court.
The high tribunal had junked the petition in June 2006, enabling the DOH to shut down the commercial blood banks.
The country’s goal is to achieve 100 percent voluntary blood donation to ensure sufficient supply of safe and quality blood. Estrella said the country had already reached 84 to 85 percent of the goal but the pandemic happened.
“The challenges experienced during the pandemic are the implementation of lockdowns that resulted in limited to no transportation available,” she claimed.
Prior to the pandemic, the primary sources of donated blood were organizations, companies and schools because they usually have regular blood-letting programs.
She added blood donors also feared contracting the virus. “There are also blood venues for mobile blood donation that have been turned into COVID-19 facilities while there are mobile blood donation activities cancelled by partner agencies,” she added.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said there is no sufficient evidence yet that COVID-19 can be transmitted through blood transfusion, citing the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Primarily, COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets. So for us to really look at the possibility that COVID-19 can be transmitted through transfusion of blood is far-fetched,” she added.
Vergeire assured that collected blood are being screened thoroughly by the DOH for diseases before they are transfused to patients.
Based on the Interim Guidance released by WHO in March 2020, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 through transfusion of blood and components is now “only theoretical and likely minimal.”
However, WHO maintained that the pandemic will have significant impact on blood supplies through reduced blood donation as what happened with the outbreaks of other coronaviruses in the past.
WHO has underscored the need for countries to “be prepared to move quickly in response to changes, during which blood sufficiency is most likely to be affected.”
Blood donors can contact the 104 Red Cross chapters and 98 blood service facilities, or call their hotline 143 if they want to donate or if they have urgent blood concerns.