Austerity hurts blood donations

The impact of an ongoing austerity drive on the health sector has dealt a blow to blood donation, already at low levels by European standards, as hospital units operate less systematically and citizens are less disposed toward giving blood, resulting in dwindling levels in blood banks, Kathimerini understands.

?Our assessment is that this year blood donations were down by some 100,000 units,? the president of the Panhellenic Federation of Blood Donors, Christos Protopappas, said Friday. Although there are no official statistics for the exact volume of blood donated in 2011, an average of between 630,000 and 650,000 units of blood are collected annually, with another 30,000 units or so imported every year from the Swiss arm of the Red Cross at a cost of 4 million euros per year.

One of the reasons for the slump, according to health sector employees, is the fact that many blood donation units in hospitals are closed in the afternoons and on weekends due to state cutbacks to both staff and funding as part of a broader cost-cutting drive demanded by the country?s international creditors. Hospital managers, in their attempt to rein in costs, are sometimes reluctant to approve duty shifts, sources said.

Inadequate hospital supplies have proved to be another problem. Last winter and spring, hospital staff reported a severe shortage of blood bags, meaning that donors were often turned away as the required receptacles were not available. ?It reached the point that some hospitals had only around five blood bags each and would be forced to borrow more from provincial hospitals,? Protopappas said.

Another complication was this year?s outbreak of West Nile virus, a disease carried by mosquitoes which can cause encephalitis, which resulted in a ban on blood donations from residents of several parts of Attica.

Finally the economic crisis appears to have affected the willingness of many Greeks to give blood to their fellow citizens as the level of their own hardship increases. ?Greek society is in shock,? Protopappas said.

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