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17 Jun 2023

17th Jun 2023

Professor Benjamin Ong, Chairman, Health Sciences Authority 

Dr Mimi Choong, CEO, Health Sciences Authority 

Ms Tan Poh Hong, Vice-Chairman, Singapore Red Cross

Mr Benjamin William, Secretary General/CEO, Singapore Red Cross 

Champion Blood Donors

Ladies and Gentlemen

1. It is an honour to be here today to celebrate World Blood Donor Day with you. Let me start by sharing two stories with you. I thank Deon and Kristen for agreeing to let me share your stories.

Deon and Kristen

2. Deon was a leukemia patient. He underwent chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, which affected his body’s ability to produce red blood cells. After his stem cell transplant, he required one to two units of red cell transfusion every week for six months. During that period, he received 35 units of red cells.

3. Kristen was a lymphoma patient. Her blood count was severely affected by her chemotherapy treatment. She received daily injections to increase her white blood cell count, but that was not enough. She needed two units of red cells and one unit of platelets during her treatment.

4. Deon and Kristen were both diagnosed with cancer at the prime of their lives. Deon was in university, while Kristen had just gotten married. When their future became uncertain and they needed help, blood donors were there for them.

5. Your support gave them and their loved ones hope to overcome the most challenging times of their lives. Most blood donors have donated unconditionally, knowing that they are saving lives, but not knowing the names and faces of people they have helped.

6. Well, they are real life people, like Deon and Kristen, whose lives are touched by you. Deon is now married, and Kristen is now a mother of two boys.

A Community of Life Savers

7. Today, I stand before a community of life savers. Who are they?

8. There is the Health Sciences Authority, an agency under MOH, overseeing the blood stock of Singapore. The Red Cross, tirelessly operating blood donation drives across the island, throughout the year. And all our donors, whose gift of life supported so many patients.

9. I sincerely thank all of you. I wish I could join you and be a blood donor, but I am not allowed to, as I lived in the United Kingdom in the late 80’s during my undergraduate days, and may be potentially exposed to the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).

10. Notwithstanding, I will try to do what I can. Last July, during the COVID-19 pandemic, our A+ and O+ blood stocks were close to falling below critical levels. HSA and the Red Cross tried their utmost to get more donors to come forward. I decided to try my luck, and appealed for donors through my social media platforms.

11. Donors responded enthusiastically, with more than 1,700 of you coming forward within four days of the appeal. Due to your unwavering support, we were able to secure the nation's blood supply, even as many other countries faced severe shortages back then. More than 34,000 patients benefitted from your blood donations last year.

12. That was one unique episode, when our blood stock ran low. Let me explain the situation of our blood stock, more generally.

13. By and large, overall collection has generally kept pace with demand over the past few years, and through the pandemic. However, there were times, such as in July last year, when demand for certain blood types went up, and stock levels depleted to almost critical levels.

14. In recent months, with the transition to DORSCON Green, blood usage is increasing as hospitals catch up on elective surgeries and treatments that were postponed during the pandemic. At the same time, more people are travelling and after they travel, they may not be able to donate blood. Consequently, our blood stocks have remained at low to moderate levels since January this year.

15. In particular, the O blood group, which is the universal blood group that can be used in emergencies by patients of any blood group, has been experiencing high demand, and stock has been depleting fast.

16. So today, I am appealing for O blood donors. We are in the middle of the travelling season, as it is the June school holidays. This is when blood donation gets disrupted because once we have been to certain countries, we cannot donate blood for a number of weeks.

17. So my appeal to donors and potential donors is to make it a habit to donate blood before you travel, whether now, during the National Day public holiday or towards the year end. This will help to raise our blood stocks to healthy and sustainable levels.

Easing of vCJD Restriction 

18. We can also do better to update our practices and expand our donor pool. I mentioned earlier that people like me cannot donate blood, because we lived in the United Kingdom or other parts of the world where vCJD was present.

19. vCJD is a rare and serious degenerative neurological disorder, caused by the accumulation of abnormal prion proteins in the brain. This can arise spontaneously, caused by genetic mutations, or linked to consumption of contaminated beef products present in certain countries during certain years. Hence it is sometimes referred to as the ‘mad cow disease’.

20. It can also incubate in an infected person for decades. That is why it has implications on blood donation. There are no reliable screening tests for vCJD in the blood, hence many countries adopt the blunt approach to disallow blood donation for persons with a history of living for a period in countries like the UK, Ireland and France.

21. The situation has however evolved. Today, we can use a process called leucodepletion to remove white blood cells in transfused blood. This is a common process which does not significantly affect the quality of the donated blood.

22. Since it is the white blood cells that can potentially transmit disease, leucodepletion makes the donated blood safe for transfusion. Countries such as the United States and Australia have therefore lifted such geographical risk restrictions arising from vCJD. No human case of vCJD transmission through transfusion of leucodepleted blood has been reported so far.

23. Given the latest development and international evidence, we will therefore relax our restrictions in the later part of this year. The easing of restriction will only be applicable to apheresis donation for now because this allows direct collection of leucodepleted blood components.

24. This will contribute to a more stable blood supply in Singapore. I look forward to start donating blood and doing my part too.

Appreciation and Recognition 

25. Today, we will be recognising the contributions and celebrating the milestones achieved by 1,876 donors and 29 blood mobile organisers.

26. Our donors come from all walks of life, and are of varied ages. Older donors deserve our utmost respect, as many have contributed for many years or decades. They are role models for young donors, whom we must continue to encourage their good deeds.

27. Hence, this year, the Singapore Red Cross has introduced a new award, YOUTHphoria. This award is targeted at youth donors aged between 16 and 25 who achieve 20 donations by the age of 25. This averages to donating twice a year over the 10-year period. A total of 39 youth donors will be receiving this award later.

28. Through this award, we hope to cultivate the habit of regular blood donation among our younger generation. In the beginning, it may take conscious effort to fit blood donation into their schedule, such as on birthdays, during festive seasons or, as I mentioned earlier, just before travelling overseas.

29. Hopefully, over time, blood donation will become a habit, a permanent fixture in your calendar. As you become seasoned donors, you can bring friends and family members along.

30. Blood donation is an act of kindness that can save lives. I announced a couple of things today - encouraging youths and allowing people who lived in the UK, France and Ireland to donate blood. Especially for the latter, the increase in blood donation is not going to be significant. But it is still important to do so because we have to send a message that nobody should be excluded from wanting to contribute. Never belittle how small the donation is. From our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand that when each of us takes the vaccine, it helps Singapore recover from the pandemic. Likewise, as our country gets older and our healthcare burden goes up, more blood is needed. Donation is like that; every bit counts. That is the spirit all of you have and I hope it is a contagious spirit. Spread it around to the whole of Singapore. If it does, I think we will be much stronger as a nation and as a society. I wish everybody a very happy World Blood Donation Day. Thank you.

Category: Speeches Highlights