Blood is the very essence of life and it saves countless people’s lives during surgeries. Covid-19 has had a heavy effect on the global population’s health and wellbeing and donated blood has become an even more consequential necessity in the pandemic era.
Japanese medical NGO Japan Heart Children’s Medical Centre (JHCMC) is facing acute blood shortages as the demand for blood increases in Cambodia.
JHCMC’s main mission is to save children’s lives by detecting cancer symptoms early and and providing the best possible treatments.
Though donors in Cambodia and Japan share their generous financial support with JHCMC – which makes such international surgeries possible – the lack of blood in their bank could prevent many children from receiving critical surgeries.
Cancer patients often require multiple blood transfusions, and many families struggle to find people to fulfill this extensive and ongoing need for blood.
Remi Horikawa, JHCMC’s public relations officer, told The Post that “it is vitally important. Our pediatric cancer patients rely on blood transfusions throughout their treatment.”
Sourcing the necessary blood for surgeries is always a challenge, but the increased demand for blood and the disruptive effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have made it even more difficult for hospitals to source blood.
Visits to the hospital are currently restricted for those who aren’t staff, patients or their most immediate family, which makes it even harder to organise blood drives, according to JHCMC.
“Patients often rely on family members with matching blood types, and it is not uncommon to see Japan Heart Hospital staff donating blood on the job,” said source.
Japan Heart is supporting it partnership with the National Blood Transfusion Centre (NBTC) in Phnom Penh by launching a Facebook group – Japan Heart Blood Donation Friends – to source donors from supporters and the general public.
Recently the Facebook group has 62 members and 12 of them have already donated blood to help save children with cancer at the Japan Heart Centre.
Sem Chhovy, 41, who has donated her blood more than 20 times to the NBTC, learnt that JHCMC needed blood for young patients’ blood transfusions during surgeries.
“Normally, my six family members donate 10,000 riel each per month and I donate blood to NBTC to help people in need in general. But this time I made it directly to the centre to help children fighting against cancer.
“I know they are very young and even though adult people are very hard to struggle with cancer,”said Chhovy.
Chhovy said the JHCMC help facilitate the process and make appointments for people who want to donate blood at NBTC. It’s very convenient for new donors.
“I encourage people to donate blood to help people in need. Of course, people can donate money but blood is both priceless and at the same time totally without cost to them.
“I also encourage my oldest son, 19 years old, to donate blood as regularly as possible,” said Chhovy.
Wearing a yellow shirt with a light blue face mask and smiling beside her son, a mother was quoted on the JHCMC’s Facebook post as saying that “ I sincerely thank all of you blood donors.”
In the month of July, Dr Hideto Yoshioka, pediatric surgeon and founder of JHCMC, is currently preparing for an intensive two weeks of surgeries for young patients who have been patiently waiting for their chances.
“We’re basically running this campaign with no time limit. However, we are planning many surgeries for young patients by Dr Yoshioka and time has become critical for many of those about to undergo procedures,” said Horikawa.
According to JHCMC, there are more than 30 young patients with cancer waiting for treatment at the centre. Every day they are struggling to fight against the disease.
After arriving at the Kingdom to perform these special surgeries, founder of JHCMC Dr. Yoshioka is now undergoing his 14-day quarantine in a Phnom Penh hotel.
The other medical staff are ready for their next missions to save lives later this month. They say that they encourage Cambodians who might be hesitant to donate blood. They say that it is perfectly safe and in fact can confer health benefits as well as save the lives of precious Cambodian children.
Since Cambodia is affected by the new wave of coronavirus that the Kingdom sees more than 63,000 cases nationwide and almost 1,000 fatalities, blood donation is now only held at the NBTC.
“They donate blood at NBTC, not Japan Heart Centre. In the past, we’ve held blood donation events at JHCMC, but our COVID-19 infection protocols prevent us from holding such events,” said Horikawa.
For details about how to donate blood, check out the Japan Heart Blood Donation Friends website from the URL and answer three simple questions about blood donation to complete the registration.
“Those who have completed registration will be contacted by our administrator through Facebook Messenger,” said Horikawa.
“Regarding blood donation requests, we will contact them about 1 or 2 days before our hospital needs a blood transfusion, and on the day, we will meet directly with our staff at the blood donation centre in Phnom Penh,” he says.
Japan Heart is an international medical volunteer organisation that was established in 2004 in Japan. They are the only Japanese organisation to have received an award from the United Nations Interagency Task Force on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.
Japan Heart started in Myanmar when Dr. Yoshioka learned that child death rates in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia were high and he noted that the medical services available in those countries were insufficient.
Dr. Yoshioka understands the hard situation facing Cambodians because he lived in a similar situation in Myanmar for years. Therefore, Yoshioka decided to help, and he put an extra emphasis on helping children.
The main mission of the hospital is providing treatment for children’s cancer.
Located in Oudong, Kandal Province at Ponhea Leu Referral Hospital, Japan Heart Children’s Medical Centre is a non-profit medical organisation which provides high-quality care to children, adults, mothers and babies for free.
Yoshioka, 56, told The Post that “I wanted to build a hospital that could provide medical services for all Cambodian people and poor people from other countries.”
JHCMC sent two babies who were hospitalised with hepatoblastoma since the summer of 2020 to Japan for treatment earlier this. Their surgeries were conducted successfully in March and the babies are receiving further treatment at the Japan Heart centre.
Normally JHCMC performs surgeries in its centre and since the pandemic it is quit hard to send the specialists from Japan to Cambodia.
The two babies were the fourth cases the centre sent it young patients to Japan for surgery operations since they were the complicated cases.
According to JHCMC, their aim is to provide medical services to otherwise unreachable areas. The centre carries out free medical care and surgery for children in Japan, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos – a total of more than 35,000 treatments annually.
“Since 2018 we have expanded our pediatric ward to include a facility for the treatment of pediatric cancer and we especially welcome patients with solid types of cancers to be treated.
“To enhance our ability to treat pediatric cancer and to train Cambodian doctors for the future, we regularly invite highly-skilled teams of pediatric surgeons and other specialists from Japan.
“In the future, we hope that our hospital can treat pediatric cancer not only in Cambodia, but also in neighboring countries, such as Myanmar, Laos and others.
“We are also setting up our environment to be a centre of human resource development, with the ultimate goal of local doctors independently running the Japan Heart Children’s Medical Centre by 2030,” said a staff member.
For more details, visit the centre’s website – https://www.japanheart.org/en/ – or visit their Facebook page @japanheart.hospital.