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Registrations help stabilize blood supply

The Red Cross has changed the way it receives blood donations to address frequent shortages of Rhesus-negative blood.

The Red Cross has set up a registry of donors, similar to the one the Association of Teachers of English in Korea set up last year. Before that, the organization was reliant on volunteer groups to get negative blood types.

Now they say that, with 14,000 donors, supply outdoes demand and they are no longer reliant on volunteer groups.

Rhesus negative blood is rare in Asia, with less than 0.5 percent of Koreans having it, but more common in Westerners. This means expats have often had to go to extra lengths to get the care they need.

That is good news for people who find themselves in a similar situation to Michael Simning who was diagnosed with leukemia last year. Simning was only able to accept A-negative, a blood type just 0.1 percent of Koreans have.

After Simning’s case and others like it ATEK set up a registry of blood donors ― something even the Anti-English Spectrum praised them for. The association hoped to avoid some of the work involved in setting up individual campaigns each time.

“It’s really not feasible for ATEK to send mass e-mails to our membership for every circumstance under which that might be useful, so we set up this blood bank,” said Rachel Bailey, ATEK’s national communications officer.

“That way, we have a list of people we can call on immediately to give instead of e-mailing our entire membership and waiting for them to respond.”

Simning was able to raise enough awareness of his situation to get the donations he needed, but he says some people have lacked the connections to do so. He added that his job with a radio station helped raise awareness and he also suspects that being an expat drew attention.

“If it had been a Korean I’m not sure it would have been as big a deal,” he said.

He points to the case of Jeon Yoo-woon, who died of lymphoma last year, after not finding enough donors. His father was unable to spend much time with him, as he had to search for donors.

The Red Cross stresses that donors must be able to speak Korean or have someone to interpret in order to give blood.

Rules on who can donate also make finding blood difficult. Donors must have been in the country for more than a year and people from certain countries, such as the U.K., cannot donate. Despite this, the number of foreign donors increased from 197 in 2000 to more than 2,000 last year.

Bailey, who is also responsible for managing the blood registry in the absence of a specific monitor, says that people should consider signing up to the ATEK register before they have been here a whole year.

“By the time need for their blood type arises, they may well have been here that long,” she pointed out.

Bailey stressed that signing up did not mean that people would be definitely required to donate.

“It’s simply a database of information for the expatriate community to draw on when a need arises,” she said.

To sign up to the ATEK register visit Atek.or.kr/blood. For information in Korean on the Red Cross blood register visit www.bloodinfo.net.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)
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