Why is it More Important to Donate Blood During COVID-19?
Blood banks are in dire need of donated blood during the current Covid-19 outbreak. This is because many people have been cancelling their blood donation appointments due to current stay-at-home measures.
According to the Red Cross, 15 units of blood are used every hour, and this number is only expected to increase with the number of elderly in our population, which elevates the importance of blood donation.
Donated blood is used to help people undergoing major surgeries, and people who suffer from leukaemia, thalassaemia and bleeding disorders. Even during this period, there are still many such patients who need donated blood to survive during emergencies.
But can I leave my house to donate blood during COVID-19? Is it safe?
Rest assured that you can still leave your house to donate blood even during the current “circuit breaker” measures because blood donation operations are still considered an “essential service”. This is as long as you meet the relevant criteria to donate blood in Singapore (discussed below).
The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) is also taking additional precautionary measures to protect the well-being of donors during the pandemic. These measures include screening potential donors before they are allowed inside the blood banks, and placing seats and donation beds apart in line with safe distancing measures.
Who Can Donate Blood in Singapore?
To donate blood, you must:
- Be between 16 and 60 years old
- Weigh at least 45 kg
- Have a haemoglobin level of at least 13.0 g/dl for males and 12.5 g/dl for females
- Be in generally good health
- Not have had any symptoms of infection for at least 1 week (e.g. sore throat, cough, runny nose, diarrhoea)
- Not have had a fever in the last 3 weeks
Please visit this HSA webpage for more details on eligibility for blood donation in Singapore.
If you are a foreigner, you can still donate blood in Singapore. However, note that all blood donors must have a Singaporean residential address which is valid for 3 months from their intended donation date.
Blood donors also need to provide a Singapore phone number for the medical staff to contact them in case of an emergency or for clarification.
Recovered patients of Covid-19 can choose to donate their blood for plasma therapy
Recovered patients of Covid-19 may voluntarily donate their blood for convalescent plasma therapy, provided that they:
- Have remained healthy for 28 days after their discharge
- Have enough antibodies
- Undergone blood tests to ensure they do not suffer from other viruses like HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.
According to the clinical director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, the plasma therapy is “based on the principle that recovered patients have protective antibodies that may help against infection”. The therapy will involve using the plasma in the blood to treat critically-ill patients of Covid-19.
Although it is still an unproven therapy for Covid-19, convalescent plasma therapy has been used for influenza and SARS, and has been effective in South Korea for two Covid-19 patients.
What is the Blood Donation Process Like?
To donate blood, you should first make an appointment with a blood bank. The four blood banks in Singapore are at Outram Park, Dhoby Ghaut, Woodlands, and Jurong.
On the day of the donation, you will need to bring along an identity proof for registration, and supply a Singaporean residential address valid for at least 3 months from your donation, and your phone number. If you are above 16 but below 18 years old, you will also need a signed parental consent form.
There are no fees required to donate blood.
- The procedure for donating blood begins with registration, where you will have to fill in a health assessment questionnaire.
- Next, your blood haemoglobin level will be checked to make sure it is high enough for you to be eligible for donation.
- Afterwards, a health screener will ask you about your medical, travel and social history, and take your weight, blood pressure, pulse and body temperature.
- Once this is done, your arm will be cleaned, and a painkiller will be applied to make sure that you feel minimal pain when you are making the donation. Blood will be withdrawn from you for 5-10 minutes to collect 300-450 ml of blood, depending on your body weight.
- After the blood has been collected, you are advised to rest for 10-15 minutes and have light refreshments before continuing your day. The entire process will take up to 45-60 minutes, or 90 minutes for an apheresis donation. An apheresis donation is when you donate only plasma or platelets specifically.
Once your blood has been collected, it will be tested for different diseases and for your blood type. Then, it will be separated into three components – red blood cells, platelets, and plasma, and stored in controlled conditions to keep it in its best possible state. Most of the blood donated is usually transfused within 2 weeks.
You may donate blood as often as 3 months. If you are doing an apheresis donation, you may do an apheresis donation every month.
When am I Not Allowed to Donate Blood?
You have been tested positive for HIV
If you know you have previously tested positive for HIV but still donate your blood, you may be guilty of an offence under the Infectious Diseases Act. If convicted, you will be liable for a fine of up to $50,000 or be imprisoned for up to 10 years, or both.
You have travelled to certain countries in the last 12 months
If you have travelled overseas during the last 12 months, you may not be allowed to donate blood depending on the country you have travelled to. This is due to the risk of you catching certain infections overseas that can be spread if someone receives your blood.
For example, the West Nile disease is currently present in Italy. If you have travelled to Italy, the earliest you can donate blood is 4 weeks from your return.
Please visit the HSA website for more information on the countries that may make you ineligible to donate blood if you have travelled to them, and for how long.
take note that if you lie about where you have travelled, you may be guilty of an offence under the Infectious Diseases Act (more on this below).
Currently, due to the Covid-19 situation, you will not be allowed to enter HSA’s blood banks if you have travelled overseas in the last 14 days.
What if I have a tattoo or piercing?
You may still donate even if you have a tattoo or piercing if the tattoo or piercing was done using sterile, single-use or disposable needles. If not, you may donate 12 months after your last tattoo or piercing procedure.
What if I consume alcohol or smoke?
It is not an offence to consume alcohol or smoke prior to the blood donation. However, it is advised for you not to donate blood while intoxicated or hungover as consuming alcohol increases the risk of you becoming dehydrated and fainting after the donation.
It is also recommended that smokers do not smoke at least 12 hours prior to the donation. When a person smokes, harmful chemicals in the cigarettes may negatively affect the quality of the donated blood.
Also, smoking increases blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too high, you may not be eligible to donate blood.
What Happens If I Lie or Conceal Any Information Related to My Blood Donation?
Before your donation, it is important that you are honest when filling in the health assessment questionnaire, and when relaying information to your health screener.
Dishonesty in such circumstances may result in you donating unsuitable blood, which may harm rather than heal the recipient of your blood. For example, if you lie about whether your tattoo or piercing was done using sterile, single-use or disposable needles, your blood might be infected with a serious disease that might be transmitted to the recipient of your blood.
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When donating blood, if you lie or give misleading information that affects the likelihood of the recipient of the blood being infected with an infectious disease, you may be guilty of an offence under the Infectious Diseases Act. For this offence, you may be fined up to $20,000, or imprisoned for up to 2 years, or both.
In 2019, a man was found guilty of such an offence for lying in his health questionnaire form about his sexual history with other men. His blood was later found to be infected with HIV. For his false declaration, he was sentenced to 4 months’ jail and fined $10,000.
Keep in mind that 1 unit of donated blood can save up to 3 lives. Even during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it is important that people continue to donate blood to save the lives of patients in need of blood.
The final assessment of whether you can give blood will be made by the medical screener at the blood bank. According to the HSA, about 1 in 5 potential donors are turned away because they are not eligible to donate blood.
If you are unsure about your eligibility, you can take the basic eligibility test online, or call and speak to the medical staff at Bloodbank@HSA.