The new 3+3+4 education system is taking a toll on an unlikely victim: the Red Cross says its blood bank is suffering from a drop in donations collected from secondary schools.
University students generally donated blood less often than secondary school pupils did, Dr Lee Cheuk-kwong, a Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service consultant, said yesterday.
"Among undergraduate students eligible to give blood, less than 10 per cent of them actually make donations," Lee said. "But among secondary school pupils, the rate is 15 to 16 per cent."
Lee said the amount of blood collected by mobile collection teams at schools decreased last year.
He attributed the drop in donations to the 3+3+4 reforms to the education system, which started in the 2009-10 academic year.
That year, secondary school education was cut from seven to six years and standard university degree courses were lengthened from three to four years.
That was the main reason behind the 14.6 per cent decline in the overall number of bags of blood collected by the mobile teams throughout the city, Lee said.
The teams collected fewer than 59,000 bags of blood last year, compared with almost 69,000 in 2011. The number of first-time donors also dropped 15.4 per cent to about 23,500 people, from almost 28,000 in 2011.
Lee said that although the society had made more visits to universities, it did not improve the situation.
"In secondary schools, we arrange blood donation sessions class by class," he said. "It's different in the universities, as students have different electives."
Lee said about 60 per cent of all red blood cells were used on patients aged 60 and above, as many of them were chronic patients in need of surgery for deteriorating organs and more prone to developing cancer.
The ageing population would be a big challenge for the Red Cross as demand for blood was bound to go up, he said.
"One out of four people [in Hong Kong] will be an elderly person," Lee said. "It means the number of eligible blood donors [aged 16 to 65] will drop."
It has been estimated that the city will need an additional 8,000 bags of blood this year, equivalent to the amount of blood collected in half a year at one of the Red Cross' eight blood donation centres.
In addition to encouraging students to volunteer for the first time, the society is also calling on those who have done so in the past to make blood donation a regular activity.
"They can mark on the calendar certain dates for donating blood," Lee said.
This would help ensure a stable supply at the blood bank and prevent a repeat of the situation earlier this month when the bank had to issue urgent appeals for donations as its stock fell to just five days' supply, he said.
Lee appealed for people to continue visiting blood donation centres to give blood during the Lunar New Year.