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Column: Did they really need to shut down mobile blood donor clinics?

An opinion piece about blood donation situation in Canada.
Estevan blood donor clinic
A mobile blood donor clinic was in Estevan for the last time on March 23, 2021.

I've been donating blood ever since I was eligible to do so.

Not that I ever thought it was my duty or any kind of a mission. By no means have I ever been a dedicated donor.

It started with my friend's grandma getting sick and needing a transfusion. At that time, they'd accept any type of blood donated towards her name for exchange. She survived leukemia and is still alive.

That first experience was inspiring. It felt good to see that joint effort worked out for a person we knew.

But again, I can't say that I was set in my mind that from now on I would be a blood donor because it matters.

In my late teens and early 20s, my motivation to donate was completely selfish. I've written about my fear of medical needles before. Ever since I was a kid, that fear was so paralyzing that friends had to drag me to the nurses' office to get required shots or PPD tests. So at some point, I decided I’d had enough of that irrational fear, and blood donation, I thought, was the best way to accommodate myself to someone sticking a piece of metal into my arm. (It helped, and the fear became more manageable but didn't disappear completely.)

When I moved to Estevan, it took me time to figure out how things work here. But once I noticed that big blood clinic bus by the leisure centre, things started rolling again. I never was the most dedicated donor, but when the clinics came around Estevan on the day that worked for me, I did my best to drop by.

In 2021, Canadian Blood Services wrapped up their mobile blood donor clinic system in many communities across Canada including Estevan.

Estevan always had a very good donor base. If you didn't book your appointment in advance, you probably wouldn't get a chance to give blood on the day of the clinic. Even Canadian Blood Service confirmed that this area was one of the best in the sense of a community response.

But clinics were costly, way more costly than blood donation events in fixed facilities. They also carried some logistical challenges when it came to transporting the donations to central hubs.

But just over a year later, the results suggest that the alternative didn't come into place in time.

Last week, published an article about the situation the Canadian Blood Services found itself in these days. As of Aug. 5, the national inventory showed that there was only three days' worth of O+ and O- blood available across the country. When the inventory goes below eight days, these types are especially needed. Supplies of other types of blood weren't high either. A+, A- and B- were at five days, while B+ was at six days. AB+ and AB- supplies were both high-marked at 17 and 10 days, respectively.

To keep up with the demand, the Blood Services needs about 100,000 new donors this year. How can they get them?

I haven't donated ever since March 2021. I've tried to in Regina, but the schedule didn't work out. I looked options up when I was in Saskatoon for the August long weekend, but they were closed because it was a weekend.

But a lot of people travel to bigger communities on the weekend, when they can't donate blood, so the current system leaves most of rural Canada out.

If I were a really dedicated donor, I'd find a way. But the truth is I always was a convenient donor – I donated because it was easy to do so and because I knew it might help save someone.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one like that.

There are several reasons behind the significant drop in blood supplies, including COVID affecting people's habits and clinics' abilities to accept donations. Canadian Blood Service is also a publicly funded organization, so they have to be very careful with how they operate and spend money given to them, which was one of the reasons they shut down many mobile clinics.

But I believe that for a lot of people, blood donation was a routine procedure that was easy to do every so often. Once it became more complicated, people, who'd donate like I used to, just skipped that part.

Summer travel plans probably affected the current situation the most, but the need for new donors and the absence of convenient options to donate also upset the blood supplies.

Knowing that when you or your loved one may need a blood transfusion there might be none is disturbing. So even the convenient donor inside me started motivating me to put more effort into finding an option. I know I'll do my best to get back into the donating routine. But the experience suggests that when something isn't straightforward and somewhat easy, it's just not sustainable.

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