ABU DHABI // Despite growing support for donating blood across the Emirates, medical authorities say they still rely on daily calls to donors to keep them stocked, and are stepping up a campaign to get residents to give more and ensure a shortage never occurs.
In 2009, doctors said there were not enough blood units on hand because of the rise in the population and the prevalence of blood disorders, such as thalassaemia, in the country.
Last year, however, mobile blood banks sent out by the Ministry of Health to target employees in the public sector collected more than 13,500 units, in addition to the units collected by blood banks in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Each of the blood banks estimates that it collects between 2,000 and 3,000 units each month.
The Abu Dhabi Blood Bank, which is operated by Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, collected about 36,000 units last year, a little more than in 2009 and up from 23,000 in 2008.
However, Dr Naima Oumeziane, the medical head of the bank, said that blood shortages had been avoided because of daily calls placed by the centre to ask donors to stop by.
"We rely greatly on the campaigns to get donors aware of us and we have a database of active volunteers that we can call when there is an emergency," Dr Oumeziane said.
And although there is no urgent shortage of blood, as had been previously reported in 2009, the blood bank sees a decrease in available units during holidays or in the summer months.
"That is why we have to always go out there and make sure there is a continuous stream of donors, because we never know when a shortage can occur, or when an emergency might happen, or even when a specific blood type will be needed," Dr Oumeziane said.
Universally, donors are advised to make sure there are 56 days between each donation - eight weeks or so.
"Most donors in the UAE prefer to donate twice a year, not every two months," Dr Oumeziane said. If they did donate more, she said, there would be no fear of a shortage. "We have to educate them that as long as they are eating healthy and replacing the blood they give, then they can donate a lot more during the year."
Dr May Raouf, the medical director for the Sharjah Blood Transfusion and Research Services, said that although 76 different nationalities donated blood, according to statistics, Emiratis constituted a high percentage of blood donors.
"Emiratis make up the highest percentage in blood donations because the majority of campaigns cover government institutions where Emiratis actually work," she said.
"They feel this is their country, they have to donate blood and therefore, make it available to everyone," she added.
Blood drives are conducted at companies, universities, colleges and government institutions to make it easy for people to donate, because they no longer need to go to donation clinics.
Nevertheless, Dr Raouf said she had noticed an increasing stream of donors that had stopped by her centre to give blood in the past year, mainly thanks to government campaigns and awareness activities.
Dr Laila al Shaer, the head of the Dubai Health Authority's Blood Donation Centre, said a minimum of 150 blood donors came into the centre every day, 14 per cent of whom were UAE nationals. More than 35,000 units were collected there last year.
"Emiratis are proponents of donation but they need more awareness," Dr al Shaer said. "Once they have information about the need for blood, they become very loyal and dedicated because they feel a certain commitment towards the community, and they view it as humanitarian work," she said.
Many viewed it as a religious obligation as well, said Rashid Abdelrahman, a 38-year-old Emirati.
"In Islam we are encouraged to perform good, charitable deeds, and giving blood is a perfect example," said the administrative assistant, who donates blood three times a year.
In November, the World Health Organisation selected the UAE as one of the five best countries in blood transfusion and blood donation efforts, along with the UK, South Africa, Thailand and Canada.
This was followed with an announcement last month by the Minister of Health, Dr Hanif Hassan, that the UAE had become self-sufficient thanks to active blood donors and upwards of 100,000 units of donated blood.
"It is these constant campaigns that made the UAE a big part of the global donor list," said Dr Raouf, of the Sharjah blood bank.
Tawam Hospital has a dedicated blood bank, which donors can visit at any time. The number is 03-7075212.
The Dubai Health Authority's Blood Donation Centre is located at Al Wasl Hospital and is open Sunday to Thursday, from 7:30am to 6pm. You can also contact them to host a blood drive, at 04-2193338.
Al Baraha Hospital in Dubai also accepts blood donors.
The Sharjah Blood Transfusion and Research Centre is open Sunday to Thursday from 7:30am to 7:30pm, and on Saturdays from 7:30am to 1:30pm. It can organise blood drives - call 06-5582111.
Umm al Qaiwain
The Umm al Qaiwain Hospital has a dedicated blood bank that can be contacted at 06-7657220.
Hospitals in Ajman and Fujairah receive blood from donors when needed.