3 April 2020

Blood and plasma donors needed to replenish dwindling supplies

| Michael Weaver
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Blood and plasma donors at a Red Cross Lifeblood centre.

The Red Cross Lifeblood service is looking for new blood and plasma donors during a shortfall due to the coronavirus. Photo: Red Cross Lifeblood Facebook.

Donating blood or plasma. There’s no better reason to get out of the house, according to the Red Cross Lifeblood service.

With blood and plasma stocks dwindling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Cross Lifeblood service says that blood and plasma donations remain absolutely vital, and travel and venue restrictions do not prevent people from donating.

Canberrans who are healthy, aged between 18 and 76 and who weigh more than 50 kg are being urged to check their eligibility to donate blood or plasma.

Marleigh Fisher is one young Canberran who relies on a regular plasma donation to stay alive. Marleigh, who has autoimmune encephalitis, epilepsy and a rare form of Type 1 diabetes, received her first life-saving transfusion last year. It had the plasma from more than 40 donors. Marleigh now requires a transfusion every three weeks which requires 20 people to donate plasma.

Marleigh’s mum Kate Fisher has also formed a group of regular plasma donors, called ‘Milkshakes for Marleigh’, and said people can add their donation to the tally under this group of special donors.

“We have had 28 donations for Milkshakes for Marleigh so far. We’re aiming for 100 with another 67 days left to donate,” Kate said. “That’s pretty impressive but there has never been a greater need for more new donors.”

Kate and Marleigh Fisher with donating painters

Kate and Marleigh Fisher (back left) with plasma-donating painters Rick Maier, Joel Curbishley, Justin McGregor, Owen Barker and Joey Di Fronzo in December 2019. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Lifeblood Chief Executive Shelly Park said their blood donor centres are open and their teams are ready to welcome donors who are healthy and well.

“Even though this situation continues to change rapidly, there are still patients in hospital who need blood and are relying on people to continue making these generous donations,” Ms Park added.

Last week, Lifeblood appealed for more than 14,000 people to come forward and donate blood or plasma and while many people have answered the call, an additional 10,000 donors are still needed during the next three weeks.

“Coronavirus does not stop the need for blood and plasma. It is a critical resource and demand for blood is constant and will continue to be,” Ms Park said.

“There are currently, and will continue to be over the coming weeks and months, patients involved in road accidents who need large volumes of blood for transfusions, cancer patients who will still need support to survive their treatment, and there will still be women who experience complications while giving birth, as well as many others who rely on this precious resource.

“We would like to say a very big thank you to everyone who has answered our call so far; however, this will be an ongoing need and we urge everyone to make blood or plasma donation part of their immediate and ongoing plans.

“We need your help to keep Australia’s lifeblood flowing,” Ms Park said.

Ms Park said there is no evidence that coronavirus is transmissible by blood transfusion, and their strict screening process means they don’t allow people who are unwell to donate blood.

Lifeblood has also introduced new rules to protect the safety of staff, donors and patients, in line with recent recommendations from the World Health Organisation.

“Our donor centres are safe places to visit and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that stays the case.

“They are strictly regulated spaces, so we have always adhered to strict sanitation protocols including wearing gloves, wiping down surfaces after every donation and using single-use sterile collection kits for every donation,” Ms Park said.

Australian Red Cross Lifeblood has estimated it needs an additional 7000 donors to make appointments to donate blood through to Easter Monday to prevent a shortage.

“We’re currently seeing an increase in cancellations and people rescheduling their appointments. Around 900 donors are cancelling appointments each day, up from 800 earlier this month,” Ms Park said.

“At the start of 2020, we saw a strong response from donors who came forward as a way to help with the nation’s bushfire response. We’ve seen this response to major events before and we know it can affect the supply chain down the track.

“To ensure there is a sufficient blood supply, we are appealing to donors to keep their appointments if well and healthy, and are inviting new donors or those who haven’t donated for a while to come forward to help us.”

There are currently 500,000 Australians who donate blood, but millions more who may be eligible to donate.

You can check your eligibility to donate blood or plasma on the Red Cross Lifeblood website.

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Are the mobile centres not open? I checked the website and it lists no vacancies for donations at Gungahlin, Bruce or Dickson during the whole month of April.

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