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Misconceptions about blood donation

You may have read or heard about some misconceptions about blood donation. Let’s unveil the truth here. 

1. Blood donation is very painful.

The needle prick feels like a pinch on the arm. A local anaesthetic will be administered by a trained and competent staff to ensure that you feel minimal pain during the donation.

2. Blood donation is good for health.

Only healthy people can donate blood. Hence, donating blood is a sign of good health. Although there is no scientific evidence to show that blood donation has direct health benefits, many donors shared that they feel good after knowing they have helped others which is a good booster to their emotional well-being.

3. I can catch diseases from blood donation.

You will not catch diseases from blood donation. The Bloodbank staff observe strict hygiene protocols. The equipment used in blood collection such as needles, swabs and gauze are new, sterile and discarded after single use.

4. The Donor Health Questionnaire asks too many intrusive questions and I don’t see how they are relevant to blood donation.

Medical interview of blood donors using the donor health questionnaire, assesses donors’ eligibility to donate blood against a set of stringent donation criteria. It ensures that donors can donate blood safely and the donated blood is safe for patients.

That is why it is important that blood donors provide the most accurate information based on their knowledge of their health and lifestyle. These details enable our medical professionals to determine if a donor may be at risk of being recently infected with a disease that is transmissible through blood. It also allows them to assess if a donor can donate blood without experiencing any health problems.

5. I do not need to answer the Donor Health Questionnaire carefully as the Bloodbank will be testing the donated blood anyway.

You need to answer the Donor Health Questionnaire carefully. This is important to ensure that the donation process is safe for you, and your blood is safe for the patients.

While all donated blood undergo infectious disease testing, not all infections can be detected by laboratory tests. This is due to window period when the level of virus is too low to be detected by the laboratory tests during early stage of infection. Also, some screening tests for infections such as Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease [vCJD] are not available globally. Therefore, it is important that blood donors answer the Donor Health Questionnaire truthfully.

The donor health questionnaire is also a legal document. Those who deliberately provide false and misleading information are liable to be prosecuted under the Infectious Disease Act by the Ministry of Health.

6. Donated blood is sold for profit.

Blood is donated by voluntary, non-remunerated donors. Blood donors do not receive any payment, and the donated blood is not sold to the hospitals for profit. A blood processing fee, however, is charged for the collection, processing, testing and storage of each unit of blood to ensure it is safe for transfusion. The blood processing fee is based on cost recovery. The Health Sciences Authority and Singapore Red Cross do not profit from blood donated by blood donors.

7. I can specify which patient receives my blood donation.

Directed blood donations are neither encouraged nor practised in Singapore. Studies have shown that directed donations have a higher infectious diseases pick-up rate as people making such donations may be under pressure to donate and may not reveal their health and social information completely.

Blood is safest when it comes from voluntary, non-remunerated donors.

8. When a patient requires blood transfusion, their family member will be asked to donate blood. It is safer to receive blood from a family member.

We do not require families and friends to donate blood for the patient or replace the blood used by the patient.

Contrary to the common belief that blood donations from family members are the safest, receiving blood from immediate family members may at times cause graft-versus-host disease. This occurs when the donor’s white blood cells attack the patient’s bone marrow, skin and other major organs such as the liver, resulting in inflammation and failure of these organs. These can be life-threatening.

In fact, blood is safest when it comes from voluntary, non-remunerated donors.

9. I will not have enough blood after donation.  

Depending on the donor’s weight, only about 8-12% of the body’s total blood volume is collected. With adequate hydration, the blood volume will return to normal level in about three days. Our body will replenish itself with fresh, new blood within a few weeks.

10. Blood is only used for emergency surgeries.

Each year, about 34,000 patients in Singapore require a safe and steady stream of blood supply to sustain or improve their quality of life. It is not merely required for those with bleeding from injuries or surgeries, it is also needed to meet the critical needs of patients with blood disorders or other medical conditions.  For example, thalassaemia patients need a blood transfusion once every 2 to 4 weeks. Patients with cancer such as leukaemia also require regular transfusions during treatment.