China's blood reserve situation has seen substantial improvement as a result of a rapid increase in voluntary blood donations, more government investment in capacity building, stricter supervision and more scientific management of the blood market, according to Yi Mei, director of the Ministry of Health's Blood Division.
Yi was speaking at the 55th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, currently under way in Shanghai.
Blood donated by volunteers accounted for 85 percent of total clinical blood consumption in 2003, up from 22 percent in 1998. Evidence from around the world demonstrates that voluntary unpaid blood donors are the foundation of a safe blood supply: they are associated with significantly lower levels of infections that can be transmitted by transfusion, including HIV and hepatitis.
Blood sales were the main cause of the spread of HIV infections through many rural areas of Henan, Sichuan, Shanxi and other provinces in the early 1990s. Impoverished farmers frequently sold blood to illegal collection stations, where tests were improperly conducted or not done at all, and sterile practices were not followed. Henan Province alone has at least 25,036 HIV-positive residents.
The illegal blood stations were closed at the end of the 1990s.
The central government invested 2.3 billion yuan (US$280 million) in 2001 to improve both training and hardware in the national blood collection and distribution network. More official blood centers and stations have been established in the western region and other remote rural areas.
Meanwhile, a total of 283 official blood stations have been closed in east, south and northeast China.
"These stations were closed not because they have done something wrong, but because they are not necessary. In order to make blood collection and disease testing strict and accurate, we need to collect the blood in larger centers," Yi said.
Closing unnecessary blood stations means many people are laid off, "but for a safer blood situation, it is worth it," Yi noted. Those who have been laid off include employees who have not passed the national examination for blood handling safety in the past two years.
However, Yi said, China still needs to strengthen its voluntary blood donation programs.
The WHO reports that more than 80 million units of blood are donated every year globally, but only 38 percent of blood is collected in developing countries, where 82 percent of the world's population live.
Blood safety is a central topic of the ongoing Western Pacific Committee session. WHO member countries, especially developing nations, are being called on to make every effort to eliminate paid blood collection.
(China Daily, China.org.cn September 15, 2004)