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June 14, 2011

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Expats urged to give 'panda blood'

THE Shanghai Blood Center reaches out to expats with a new volunteer group promoting donations in the international community, especially of blood that is rare in China, Rh negative, or "panda blood." Zhang Qian reports.

Today is international World Blood Donor Day, titled "More Blood, More Life." And this year more expatriates in Shanghai will be celebrating and making voluntary donations as part of a new city drive to involve expats.

The Shanghai Blood Center last week established a new volunteer service group called Love In Foreigner (LIF), calling on expats to spread the word to encourage donations in the international community. Rh negative blood, far more common in Caucasians than Asians, is always in short supply in Shanghai.

A big party titled "Light the World with Love" will take place on Riverside Boulevard in Pudong New Area today from 3-8:30pm, marking the global event announced by the World Health Organization. Expats and locals plan to sing "We Are the World" to celebrate Shanghai's family of blood donors.

Mobile blood collection centers will be on site for easy donations.

Flavio Burini is one of the most enthusiastic blood donators on the new team and has made 20 or 25 donations since 2003 or 2004.

"It makes me feel better and the blood test is a good way to monitor my health condition," says the Italian businessman who donates both whole blood and platelets (apheresis). "I don't feel as good when don't donate for a while."

He can donate whole blood every three months and make a platelet donation monthly, so he tries to donate every two or three months.

"It's quite clean and hygienic, everything is sterile - I have looked at every stage very closely," he says. "I am very positive about donating blood here and I have no issues whatsoever," he says, adding that he is encouraging the Italian community to donate.

"Since we are guests in China, giving blood is a good way to give something back," he says.

Burini is an exceptional donor, even among expats who regularly donate blood several times a year in Western countries. In China, however, Burini's charity is astonishing and considered dangerous. Chinese are generally reluctant to donate blood and traditional medicine holds that one's life force and essence, one's bloodline, are contained in blood and therefore, donations weaken the original qi, or energy, each person is born with.

Attitudes are changing gradually and Chinese don't rush to donate blood. When they do, they are entitled to time off to recover, and other benefits, sometimes cash.

The expat donor group Love In Foreigner (LIF) is so far quite small and basic, with around 18 members who have already donated blood.

Shanghai Blood Center staff have been considering such a group for a while, as the shortage or Rh negative blood in China is always a problem, and special appeals for blood are made for international events, such as the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and the World Expo in Shanghai last year.

"Many lives are saved by transfusions, but lives can also be lost for lack of the correct blood type," says Sun Jie, a social services official at the Shanghai Blood Center.

With the support of many generous individuals and companies, the volume of donations has increased, but there's always a Rh negative gap, says Sun.

"More than 300,000 foreigners are living in Shanghai, a large donor pool," says Sun. "As a metropolitan center, Shanghai can offer convenient and quality services in case of illness or accident. The only thing not always on hand is Rh negative blood."

Generally, more than 20 percent of foreigners have Rh negative blood, while only 0.34 percent of the Chinese population is Rh negative, she says. That's why it's often called "panda blood." And the rarest, AB negative is a very special panda blood.

Since demand is not high, there isn't much on hand - generally no more than 10 packs of 200ml Rh negative blood in all types (O, A, B, AB). In an emergency, that's far from enough, and calls go out.

"It's very necessary to set up a platform of regular blood donors and have a database where we can find sources of Rh negative blood quickly for emergency use," says Sun.

Two blood drives among expats early this year helped collect basic data for the blood center team. Some international schools also register of Rh negative blood types.

"An expat group is a great idea and many people would be willing to donate," says Lisa Fitzmaurice, an Australian living in Pudong New Area, who attended the organizational meeting last Wednesday.

"Australians are used to donating, it's not considered a big health issue as it is by many people in China. We can give every three months. It's simple, fast and clean, we are in and out quickly."

She emphasized that Westerners need to be reassured about strict hygiene and said mobile collection vans were essential to make donations convenient, especially for working people.

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