Tran Anh Nhat Huong, a 28-year-old teacher at Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City's Marie Curie High School, began donating blood when he was a student at university nine years ago.

Huong, who is one of the country's top 100 blood donors, has since donated 27 times. He and the other donors were honoured recently at a ceremony in Hanoi held by the national steering committee for voluntary blood donations.

Though the national programme for blood donations began in 1993, in recent years more people have donated blood as a result of better awareness of the safety of the procedure. "I feel very happy every time I give blood. I plan to continue," Huong said in a recent interview in HCM City. Huong first donated blood when he was a freshman at HCM City University of Education.

He said that after finishing his studies one day, he decided to ride his bicycle back to campus to donate blood when he heard about a programme scheduled that day at the school.

"On the way, I was worried that it might affect my health," he said. "But the worry went away when I saw smiles on the faces of the donors who were leaving the room."

Huong is also one of a number of people who donate blood in emergencies. In such cases, the donor is directly hooked up to the patient receiving the blood via a catheter.

Dr Nguyen Phuoc Bich Hanh, head of the HCM City Blood Transfusion and Hematology hospital's ward for blood donations, said the public had become more aware of the need for blood donations thanks to information in the media. She said that more and more people recognised that a blood donation was a humane gesture that saves lives.

At the recent voluntary blood donation campaign held each year in HCM City before Tet (Lunar New Year) at the Youth Social Work Centre, as many as 332 people, most of them students, donated blood.

The campaign is also being held in 22 other provinces and cities throughout the country under the name Red Sunday. Donations in these areas as well as HCM City continued until January 28.

Do Thi Sang, 55, of HCM City, was one of the donors at HCM City's youth centre.

"When I was told that my blood could help other people, I said to my husband that we should go," she said.

Sang visits her ward's Red Cross Society two or three times a year to donate blood. "Anyone who has good health should do so," she said. "It doesn't harm my health, and it makes me feel good to think that I can help someone else."

Nguyen Thi Kim Lien, a third-year university student from the city's Binh Chanh District, who also gave blood at the Youth Social Work Centre last Sunday, has been donating since her first year at the University of Finance and Marketing.

Her grandmother, who had to delay heart-valve surgery because of a blood shortage, had encouraged Lien to donate blood.

Because of the increase in donations, the Blood Transfusion and Hematology hospital in HCM City now has at least 8,000 to 10,000 blood units in storage to ensure a sufficient supply during the Tet holiday, when the number of donors tend to fall and more traffic accidents occur.

The hospital also stores frozen red blood cells for patients with rare blood types. In Hanoi, the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion now has about 6,000 units of blood available for emergency treatment during the Tet holiday.

Last year, in HCM City alone, nearly 55,000 units were donated by students and workers. In addition, nine young people gave blood directly at the Heart Institute and the Blood Transfusion and Hematology Hospital.

Dr Nguyen Anh Tri, head of the Heart Institute, said that before 1993, when the national voluntary blood donor programme began, blood was mostly collected via individual donors who asked for payment.

Now, nearly 97 per cent of the blood supply comes from voluntary donations.

Last year, more than 1 million blood units were collected in the country, an increase of 110.5 per cent compared to 2014. Blood transfusion centres in the country received more than 55,592 units of platelet cells, which contribute to treatment of diseases such as dengue fever, in which the number of platelet cells drops. Despite the increase in blood donations nationwide, supply only meets 60 per cent of demand.

Last year, the number of voluntary donors accounted for about 1.27 per cent of the country's population, according to Dr Tri. He said the number should be raised to at least 2 per cent.

"Because blood can be stored for only 35 days, blood donations are always needed," he added.

Dr Tri said that it was important to set up teams of potential blood donors, especially in remote areas such as islands.

"Emergency blood donors are considered a mobile blood bank," he said, adding that transport of blood for emergencies to nearly 3,000 islands throughout the country was often difficult.

Limited local budgets and insufficient electricity sources on the island limits the use of refrigerators for storage of blood, he said.

Vietnam News - February 6, 2016