Ricky Yu is a blood donor who has given blood 204 times in 24 years. Now, he is also an apheresis donor, contributing plasma and platelets through a special procedure every two weeks.
The Red Cross hopes more Hong Kong residents will follow in Mr Yu’s footsteps. It says demand for blood continues to rise but inventories remain low, therefore regular blood donors play a crucial role in the community.
Mr Yu said: "I started donating blood in 1993. I saw a poster saying ‘There is no substitute for human blood’ when I was walking on the street. I then decided to give blood for the first time."
In addition to blood donation, Mr Yu also registered for voluntary bone marrow donation. In 2006 his bone marrow helped a girl with a genetic blood disorder.
After that he decided to help more people through apheresis donation.
Blood is a mixture of red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma.
Apheresis donation focuses on donating plasma and platelets, instead of whole blood.
With the help of a blood cell separator, the procedure removes the required components from the donor's blood and returns the remainder to the donor.
Platelets and plasma are quickly replenished, making this type of donation possible at a two-week interval while whole blood can be donated two to five times a year.
"On the day when I donated bone marrow, a doctor told me that apheresis donation helps more patients in need because I can donate more frequently. He suggested I become an apheresis donor a year after the bone marrow donation. I took his advice and registered as an apheresis donor," Mr Yu said.
If you are 18 to 60 years old, weigh more than 60kg, have donated whole blood without adverse reactions and are willing to donate blood at least once a month, you can be an apheresis donor.
In 2016 there were 7,600 apheresis donations in Hong Kong.
For whole blood donation, the total attending number of donors in the year was more than 328,000 - an increase of 2.1% compared to 2015.
However, blood inventories still remain low due to two main reasons. One is Hong Kong’s ageing population. Sixty percent of donated blood was used for patients aged 60 and above.
Red Cross Head of Blood Collection & Donor Recruitment Dr Jennifer Leung said bed occupancy in hospitals has been very high in recent months, especially during the winter surge. As a result, demand for blood has also been high.
The other reason for the city’s low blood supply is the increase in donors on deferral, which means those deemed ineligible to give blood at the time of donation.
In 2016 there were more than 70,000 deferral cases, a rise of 15.8% compared to the previous year.
"One of the major deferral causes was [a] failed haemoglobin screening test [for] donors. Because for potential donors with haemoglobin on a borderline low level, they might not detect any discomfort. They did not feel any disturbance in their daily lives. We believe the cause of marginal haemoglobin for them is due to iron deficiency," Dr Leung said.
She recommends drinking juices rich in vitamin C and eating food rich in iron, like spinach, black fungus or beef.
Dr Leung also suggests drinking caffeinated drinks like black tea and coffee in between meals instead of during meals, as they prevent iron absorption.
With the Easter holiday coming up, Dr Leung hopes Hong Kong's hospitals can maintain a steady blood supply.
"This year’s Easter holiday lasts for four consecutive days in April. So we believe many holidaymakers will go out of town. Thus, it is predicted the blood donors and blood collection numbers may drop at that time.
"However, for all hospitals in Hong Kong they still need adequate blood stock to support the clinical transmission services during the holiday."
At least 1,100 donors are needed every day to support clinical transmission services.
The Red Cross is appealing to the public to give blood during the holiday with most of the city’s donor centres staying open during Easter.