Friday, July 3

Replenishing the gift of life


MRC Miri continues mission to top up blood bank for noble cause of saving lives

About 1,200 blood donors attend a garden party on July 21, 1996.

THE Malaysian Red Crescent (MRC) Miri District became the first chapter in the country to gain UN recognition for Voluntary Non-Remunerated Blood Donation (VNRBD) over 30 years ago — a feat achieved in the face of many challenges.

According to Blood Donor Recruitment Committee (BDRC) deputy chairman Karambir Singh, back in the days when blood donation was unheard of, people who needed blood transfusions had to either buy their own blood type or replace the bloodstock they used by bringing along someone with the same blood type.

Because of this practice, syndicates sprouted up to profit from buying and selling of blood.


Challenging start

In the old days, high demand and low supply drove up the price of blood, making it extremely difficult especially for the poor to get a life-saving pint.

Launching of the mobile blood donation campaign at the MRCS building on July 19, 1991 by then Chief Minister and current Governor, Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud (standing third left).

“The Miri District chapter stepped in to help by starting a blood donation drive, which went on for many years before achieving VNRBD recognition from the World Health Organisation (WHO),” Karambir recalled.

However, following the achievement, problems started cropping up with volunteers from the chapter getting life-threatening notes and experiencing acts of sabotage reportedly from syndicates over the loss of business.

Volunteers often found their vehicles with scratched marks or punctured tyres but they didn’t give up.

“The persistence of volunteers helped MRC through the tough times. Because of their courage, we have been able to continue our blood donation drive till this day,” Karambir said, crediting part of the success to Dr Roland Matu, one of the pioneers who helped the chapter achieve the recognition from WHO.

Johnny Boli receives his 100th-pint certificate from MRC Miri District president Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr George Chan Hong on Aug 25, 2001.

Dr Roland, who has been involved with blood donors recruitment for over 30 years, is the current chairman of Miri District’s BDRC.

Through its concerted efforts, a community with superstitious beliefs about giving blood has been transformed into one that is contributing 70 per cent of the stockpile through mobile campaigns.

The steady progression is viewed as an accomplishment of every member of the community.

According to Miri Blood Bank’s records, blood donations in 2019 had increased by over 10 per cent to 8,734 pints from 7,365 pints the previous year, making the Miri Hospital Blood Bank stockpile the second-highest in Sarawak.

The record also shows out of the donors, 67.78 per cent is male while the average age is between 17 to 65 years with the highest number of donors coming from the 30 to 34 age group.

Statistically, 46.5 per cent of the donors are Chinese, 44.82 per cent natives, and 6 per cent Malays.

The record further indicates how the local community has developed in terms of education, mindset, and respect for volunteerism regarding blood donation.


Biggest challenge

When MRC Miri District started its blood donation drive, the public, particularly the Chinese community, were rather apprehensive due to the misperception and disinformation about giving blood.

MRC Miri District deputy chairman, Minister of Transport Datuk Lee Kim Shin, (standing right) visits the donation centre in mid-April.

There were other challenges as well but biggest one came this year with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed on March 18 meant all mobile donation campaigns had to be delayed or cancelled.

The use of the stockpile for crucial and emergency surgeries saw supply dipping to a dangerously low level, prompting a plea from the Miri Blood Bank for public blood donations on social and mainstream media.

One of the reasons for the low level was the stay home order.

To boost reserves, MRC Miri District set up a static centre along Jalan Bulan Sabit as a temporary donation site at its Training Institute.

Karambir said communication with the police on issuing donors a special permit or a donation booklet, and, more importantly, support from the public, had resulted in a gradual increase in donations the first week after the static site became operational.

The MRC Miri District static centre started operation on March 25.

The standard operating procedure (SOP) on blood donors’ safety was quickly drawn up, including temperature screening before entering the mobile (donation) area, hand sanitiser at the donation site, and disallowing donors with respiratory tract infection and those who had visited affected countries for 14 days.

As the mobile donation campaign in public areas is still not allowed, Karambir advised organisations wishing to organise blood donation drives to collaborate with MRC to ensure compliance with all SOPs.

So far, MRC Miri District has organised 32 blood donating sessions and based on the latest record (March 25 to June 6), a total of 904 participants have been registered with 802 successful donors.


World Blood Donor Day

This year, World Blood Donor Day, celebrated annually on June 14, is themed ‘Safe Blood Saves Lives’ plus a slogan — ‘Give Blood and Make the World a Healthier Place’.

The event, gazetted by WHO, serves to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products and to thank donors for their life-saving gift.

The UN body responsible for public international health has highlighted the importance of blood service in giving patients access to safe blood and blood products in sufficient quantity as a key component of an effective health system.

This includes safe and coordinated blood transfusion service based on voluntary non-remunerated blood donations.

According to WHO, unlike Malaysia, many countries face challenges in making sufficient blood available while ensuring the quality and safety of blood services and products.

To mark World Blood Donor Day, a two-day pre-event donation campaign had been held at the Training Institute in anticipation of more donors coming forward to support and play their part for a noble cause.

To maintain supply, the static centre will continue to operate until the end of June.  It opens every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 8.30am to 1pm.

For more information on the donation campaign, contact Karambir on 016-8785500.