The blood donations of young people from many large organisations have made a significant contribution to saving the lives of many patients in the Kingdom. Cambodia’s daily blood consumption is typically between 250 and 300 bags, according to Sok Po, director of the National Blood Transfusion Centre (NBTC).

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, which disturbed gatherings and other humanitarian activities, blood donations dropped to about five percent of the daily needs of the NBTC. As the epidemic slowed, blood donations began to climb, to around ten per cent.

“The majority of blood donors are from the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC) and private institutions such as Chip Mong, Vital, Mee Chiet, the Royal Phnom Penh and Sunrise hospitals . . . Several other organisations donated a lot of blood after the reopening of the country,” said Po.

As part of its humanitarian activities, Khmer Beverages, a subsidiary of Chip Mong Group, has mobilised its staff to donate blood to save lives.

Khmer Beverages president Leang Pov said one of the company’s core values is to give back to society. The main purpose of the programme is to involve employees in charitable activities and create a culture of helping one another. The programme also taught employees to understand the importance of saving lives through blood donations.

“A total of 176 Khmer Beverages and Chip Mong staff participated, with 125 being eligible to donate blood. This was not the first time we have held a blood drive; we do it every year. Under no circumstances will we cease carrying out humanitarian activities,” he told The Post.

NBTC director Po said most of the voluntary blood donations came from youths, and especially the UYFC in Phnom Penh.

“Once Covid-19 restrictions eased, they donated about 700 bags,” he said.

He acknowledged that during the pandemic, the centre struggled with shortages. However, due to its policy of exchanging donations, it faced fewer problems than in the past. Under the policy, friends and relatives of patients who require blood must find donors to replace the bags used.

“This was sometimes difficult for a patient’s relatives during the pandemic, and of course it was difficult for our doctors, who had to perform their duties while always being mindful of the threat of Covid-19,” Po added.

Giving birth requires a lot of blood

Kong Sopheary suffered from anemia in 2016. While recovering from surgery, she developed anemia which required blood transfusions.

Her husband Phorn Sochea was very concerned about his wife’s safety, recalling, “She needed one bag for her transfusion. I personally went and donated blood at Ang Duong Hospital.”

Po noted that in general, the patients who needed the most blood are women giving birth. This is a heavy burden on the NBTC – as well as the relatives of the patients. The second highest demand comes from the heart surgery ward at Calmette Hospital. Other hospitals in the capital also use a lot of blood.

He gave a practical example. “Today I saw a woman in Orienda Clinic who needed almost 20 bags of blood to save her life.”

Po said if relatives could not find donors for large amounts of blood, it was the responsibility of the NBCT. He cited a recommendation from the Minister of Health, who said that if people could not find replacement blood, it was up to the NBTC and the Ministry of Health.

Blood donation gives surprising benefits

Chan SokHeang, a 34 year old used car dealer, volunteered to donate blood for the first time when a relative needed blood.

“I donated blood for the first time last May. I felt no ill effects, and after I made my donation, I was given snacks. From now on, whenever I have free time, I would be willing to donate blood to help the needy,” he said.

Today, most blood donations are made by groups of volunteers from large organisations.

Po said that the general public does not fully understand or participate in blood donations yet. He believed that this may be due to unfounded concerns, as Cambodians are always willing to help each other. He thought some people were under the false impression that donating blood could lead to health problems.

“In fact, donating blood not only helps patients who are being treated in hospital. The donor also receives personal benefits. Reducing the concentration of blood in the body can reduce excess iron and facilitate better circulation. This reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes, cancer and weight gain,” he added.

“If giving blood affected donors, doctors would not do it. They do, so clearly there are no negative effects. Men, in particular, should donate blood every three months,” he said, adding “It does not affect our health, and we are sharing with those in need. Should we have a need for blood ourselves, our donations will have been recorded in the system.”

The end of donation cards

Concerning the stopping of the issuance of cards to blood donors, Po explained that after a normal donation, the blood cannot be used in exchange for a specific patient’s needs. Blood donors used to receive cards, which meant that if they knew someone who needed blood, they could simply show the card in exchange for the amount they had given.

“Professional conmen used the old policy to their own advantage, by selling the cards to those in need, for profit. These professional ‘blood brokers’ damaged the policy, so we ended it,” said Po.

He said that once cards were issued, volunteers were often tricked into giving up their cards. The conmen then sold the cards to people who took blood from the centre’s stock, without finding donors to replace it.

“In 2019, we organised a blood drive which received almost 900 bags of blood per day. Nearly all of the donors were tricked by conmen who took their cards. Nearly every bag that was donated was taken from our stock. That was a serious crisis for the NBTC,” he said.

He thinks that most blood donors do not think they themselves would need to use it, but did it to help others.

The NBTC records the history of blood donors in its computer system and in the future will use facial recognition technology. This will ensure that each individual’s history of donations is clear.

“We need to take strict measures because we must prevent the illegal trading of blood”, he said.

Individuals who wish to donate blood for their personal use in case of an emergency are welcome to do so. Members of the large institutions who give a lot of blood can also receive units if they need them, through the cooperation officers of their institution.

The donation and blood quality

If 20 bags of blood are needed, for example, 30 to 40 people are usually required, because not everyone is able to give blood. Some people may be ill or have blood pressure than is too high or too low. A lack of sleep or too much alcohol can often be the reason for this.

Po said donations from volunteers do not meet the daily consumption yet. A large blood drive which generates 700 bags, for example, will have been exhausted in little more than two days.

“Also, not all donated blood can be used. It must be checked in the lab, as some blood is contaminated by viruses or has a high fat content. Generally, of each 100 bags, perhaps 90 can be used. This means that we normally cut about ten per cent of the bags from any large blood drive,” he added.

For those who wish to donate blood to be stored in case of future demand, he explained that the shelf life of blood was limited.

“After it has been purified, blood will only be stored for 30 days. After that, the centre will distribute it to hospitals. If you give blood for a specific person, please note his/her name and which hospital they are staying in,” he said.