By Alexandra Harney
HONG KONG (Reuters) – The coronavirus epidemic is draining China’s reserves of a life-saving commodity: blood.
Blood collection centers around the country have reported sharp drops in donations, with one even issuing a “red alert” as stocks dwindle. Doctors and other medical personnel have been donating, according to doctors and reports in state media.
“Blood reserves have reached their lowest levels in history, and the blood supply for clinical use is facing an unprecedented challenge,” warned the blood collection center in the city of Jining on Feb. 10 on social media platform WeChat.
While hospitals are postponing elective surgeries until after the epidemic is controlled, cancer patients, people suffering from blood diseases and critical care patients still need transfusions.
The shortage highlights how the epidemic has exacerbated existing problems in China’s healthcare sector. Blood supplies have long been tight. With quarantine measures to prevent the coronavirus spread limiting large gatherings, donation centers are struggling to match regular levels of giving by students, military members, employees at state-owned companies and walk-in contributions.
“The number of people on the street has dropped abruptly, the amount of blood donated has dropped suddenly,” a blood collection center in the city of Linyi, in northeast China, warned on WeChat earlier this month.
The city of Nanjing needed daily donations from 300 people to meet demand, but only about 10 people a day had donated blood recently, the Jiangsu Province Blood Centre noted on its website on Feb. 6.
The Jiangxi Province Blood Centre, which recently issued a “red alert” of low blood supply, sent text messages to more than 30,000 people urging them to donate, according to a Feb. 4 post on its website.
Most of the requests are for traditional blood donations, but at least one blood center said it was also collecting plasma from recovered coronavirus patients for use in treating the disease.
Shanghai’s collection center noted in a WeChat post this month that more transfusions could be required for coronavirus patients with severe respiratory failure that have to rely on machines to support their heart and lung function.
Reached by phone, blood centers in Shanghai, Jiangxi and Jining declined to comment. Jiangsu’s blood center confirmed that donations had slowed dramatically.
With many surgeries postponed, the real increase in demand for blood could come after the epidemic is controlled.
Some collection centers promoted donations as a way of supporting the fight against the epidemic. Bloodline, a Shanghai-based donation group, launched a drive earlier this month to help address the shortage. “We are trying to give back to the community,” said Ashish Maskay, an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bloodline.
(Reporting By Alexandra Harney; Additional reporting by Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)