National blood bank offers free rides to donors to tackle Covid-19 shortage

The National Blood Centre in Yangon will provide free round-trip transportation for groups of 10 or more blood donors in a bid to tackle a shortage as more people avoid leaving their homes.

Before the Covid-19 crisis hit Myanmar, the centre had about 150 donors a day, said deputy director-general Dr Thida Aung.

But when the government told people in mid-March to avoid large gatherings, the centre stopped running blood drives and the number of donors dropped to just 20 a day.

The centre, which supplies blood to 14 hospitals in Yangon, was initially able to bring the number up to 50 by contacting regular donors individually, but it still lags critically below normal levels. Last year it received 150,000 donations.

The centre has its own 20-seater bus it will use to pick up and drop off groups of donors free of charge, Thida Aung said.

“If individual donors find it difficult to come to our centre, we can pick them up at home if there are at least 10 donors,” she told Myanmar Now.

She said donor groups will have to contact the centre to make an appointment for pick-up.

“We are determined to overcome this, no matter how challenging the situation is for those who really wish to donate blood,” she said.

The drop in donors has forced the centre, which is run by the health ministry, to ration its supplies, prioritising emergency cancer, haematemesis and neurosurgical cases, as well as patients currently undergoing surgery.

Ashin Sopata, a monk and a member of the Gunawati group of blood donors, said Covid-19 has made recruiting donors harder.

“We’re facing great difficulty. Many people are shying away from donating their blood because they are scared to go to a medical facility,” he told Myanmar Now. “It was easier before.”

One former donor refused to donate at the North Okkalapa hospital after a patient there was confirmed to have Covid-19, Ashin Sopata said.

He said his group does not generally organise groups of donors but reaches out to individual donors when needs arise.

In a bid to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, only donors and staff can now enter the National Blood Centre, at the corner of Shwedagon Pagoda Road and Bogyoke Aung San Road in Latha township.

The centre has advised regular donors to stop donating for a month if they have travelled abroad in the last month, develop flu-like symptoms or have had close contact with suspected Covid-19 cases.

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