HCMC expats donate blood as lockdown causes shortage

By Long Nguyen   August 5, 2021 | 04:15 pm PT
As HCMC faces a blood shortage while grappling with its worst Covid outbreak, many foreigners have shown their support, hoping to save more lives.

Amid the lockdowns, Liz Temple and her daughter, Madison Brown, have mostly been at home in Thao Dien Ward in District 2. But last Sunday they took a trip to District 5, passing six Covid checkpoints across the city to reach Cho Ray Hospital to donate blood.

"Madison registered to donate after she saw a Facebook post about blood shortages due to Covid-19," Temple, a teacher from Australia, told VnExpress International. This was the first time they had ever donated blood.

They are among many expats in Saigon to do so as the city faces a shortage amid the pandemic.

Matthew Landwehr donates his blood, July 24, 2021. Photo courtesy of Matthew Landwehr.

Matthew Landwehr, coming from South Africa, donates blood in Tan Binh District on July 24, 2021. Photo courtesy of Matthew Landwehr.

It began in late May. Later, when the city imposed a semi-lockdown to combat Covid, all registrations for blood donations were canceled.

Nguyen Phuong Lien, deputy director of the HCMC Blood Transfusion Hematology Hospital, which provides blood to hospitals across the city, said as of last Sunday it only had 640 bags of type O blood left in stock, while the average daily demand is for 150 bags.

She called on the public to donate as soon as possible.

Many foreigners have responded to the call.

Jovidon Khojaev, 23, an MMA fighter from Tajikistan, also learned about the blood shortage from Facebook and decided to do his bit.

He said: "It is lucky that I have O blood, I live in Saigon. I wanted to do something."

People with O negative blood are dubbed universal donors since red blood cells from this type of blood can be transfused to anyone regardless of their type.

Temple and Brown also have O type blood.

South African Matthew Landwehr of Tan Binh District donated in July.

"I saw a news article on Facebook saying that the blood levels were low, so I wanted to help out in any small way I could," he said.

Donors can visit the Blood Transfusion and Hematology Hospital at 118 Hong Bang, Ward 12, District 5, any day between 7 a.m. and noon, and 1:30 and 4:30 p.m., carrying ID papers.

They are advised to register in advance at 0919660010, 028 39557858 or tiepnhanhienmau@gmail.com so that they can receive a confirmation message they can use to get through Covid checkpoints.

Many people said they were allowed to pass through checkpoints easily after showing their blood donation appointment on mobile phones.

"We were stopped maybe five or six times by police at checkpoints on the way to the hospital," Temple said.

"We went at around 8:30 a.m. from Thao Dien and arrived at Cho Ray Hospital just after 9 a.m. There was hardly any traffic apart from shippers on the streets."

She said language was not a major problem, and since people strictly followed Covid prevention measures they were not worried about infection risks.

"There were other people there, but all precautions like temperature checks, hand sanitizers and distance between people were observed. The entire process took only around 45 minutes."

Landwehr also felt at ease with the Covid precautions taken at the blood donation center in Tan Binh District, saying it was well laid out. While the registration form was in Vietnamese, other donors helped him out where he could not understand.

An American woman has her blood pressure taken before donating her plasma at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, August 12, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nhat.

An American woman has her blood pressure taken before donating her plasma at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, August 12, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nhat.

After the donation, they were given certificates, gifts and a small amount of money, which was a surprise, Temple said.

"They gave us milk and cookies to take home. We were also given a certificate to say we donated."

She and her daughter did not expect to be given anything for their donation and tried to leave without the milk and cookies, "but the staff insisted we take the bags home with us."

Normally, blood donors are advised to rest briefly and have some light refreshments and snacks before receiving their certificate and payment.

"When we arrived home we were totally surprised to find they had given us each VND50,000 ($2.18) in an envelope," Temple said.

In the last few weeks, with hospitals calling on people to donate blood amid the lockdown, many foreigners have shown their support by sharing their experiences and blood donation process on Facebook.

"It takes you like 20 minutes (to donate blood) but this 20 minutes can help someone’s life," Khojaev said.

Echoing this, Landwehr said he would like to encourage everyone to donate blood.

"You never know when you will be in hospital and be in need of someone else's blood to survive. It's quick, easy and relatively pain- free."

Many could not hide their sadness at seeing their city desolate amid the lockdown, but all believed things would get better as long as people showed kindness and compassion.

Temple said: "I have no doubt that Saigon will overcome Covid-19 again, and reopen and rebuild the community, the schools and the businesses... If anyone can make a blood donation, please do it."

HCMC has become the epicenter of the latest Covid wave that began in late April and infected over 185,000 people nationwide. City authorities have imposed night-time restrictions and banned non-essential travel.

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