ABU DHABI // An ageing population is contributing to rising demand for the nation's blood supplies, doctors have warned.
"The need for blood is increasing, increasing and increasing," said Dr Naima Qumeziane, head of the Abu Dhabi Blood Bank (ADBB), which is leading a drive in the emirate for more donors.
"The demographic changes in the UAE as the population ages are leading to a steady increase in the consumption of blood components," the doctor said.
"Complex therapeutic procedures such as cardiovascular surgery and solid organ transplantation are fast becoming viable options for an increasing proportion of older patients nowadays.
"This trend is likely to continue in coming years."
Staff at blood banks across the country are urging people to give the gift of life today as the 10th World Blood Donor Day is marked across the globe.
With Ramadan just around the corner, stock levels at blood donation clinics are expected to plummet due to a seasonal shortage of volunteers.
Blood banks need donors to come forward and help make up the shortfall.
"It is time to donate," said Dr Qumeziane. "It is safe, it takes 30 minutes and it saves lives."
In Abu Dhabi, about 32,000 people volunteered to donate blood last year - although about 9 per cent were turned away because of medical complications such as low haemoglobin, travel history and being on medication not allowed for donation, said Dr Qumeziane.
About 28,000 units of blood were collected last year.
There is never an "ideal amount" of units the ADBB would like to have but to keep stock at a healthy level, donations need to increase by about 10 per cent, said Dr Qumeziane.
The Dubai Blood Donation Centre, run by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), collected 42,400 blood donations last year - a 17 per cent increase compared with 2011.
But as blood has only a 42-day shelf life, regular donations are vital to keep stocks at optimum levels, said Dr Laila Al Shaer, director of the Dubai donation centre.
"We are meeting demand but I would like to encourage people to put their names into our database so that we can contact them according to the demand. Of course a certain amount of all blood and platelets are stored but we cannot overstock a product with such a short shelf life."
Having a database of donors is particularly important for rare blood groups such as O negative, said Dr Al Shaer.
People suffering from thalassaemia, a blood disorder that affects haemoglobin and the red blood cell count, as well as victims of road accidents, cancer patients and sickle cell patients are among those who benefit from blood donations.
The DHA centre is marking World Blood Donor Day by thanking its 80,000 donors for their gift of life.
"None of these were paid donations. This reflects the commitment of our society in reaching out to those in need of the most precious gift of life," said Dr Al Shaer.
About 43 per cent of the blood collected for the DHA centre was provided to thalassaemia patients, while a further 27 per cent of the blood was used for Rashid Hospital patients, including patients admitted to the trauma and emergency centre.
A further 6 per cent of the blood was used for patients at Latifa Hospital mainly for maternity cases that experienced bleeding post-delivery, said Dr Al Shaer.
A five-day awareness campaign will begin at the DHA centre today urging everyone to give blood at the donation centre.
In Abu Dhabi, the blood bank will be marking the annual event by encouraging people to visit the site in Khalidiyah and donate - as well as holding a ceremony to thankregular donors.
The Pentecostal Young People's Association is also hosting a blood donation drive between 10am and 3pm today at St Andrew's Church Centre in association with the ADBB.
"World Blood Donor Day is an occasion to thank those who participated in saving lives by donating their blood," said Dr Qumeziane.
Regular donors represent the safest source of blood because of their known medical history and the fact they are regularly tested, said Dr Qumeziane.
In Sharjah, a ceremony was held on Wednesday to thank those who regularly donate blood at the emirate's blood transfusion and research centre.