Illegal trade in donated blood on rise in China amid shortage of supplies from donors, says report
The illegal trade in human blood has re-emerged in China two decades after a crackdown in the wake of an HIV contamination scandal, according to a television station report.
The business is prospering because while more people can afford surgery in hospitals, there is a nationwide shortage of blood from donors, the report said.
Levels of blood donation on the mainland are lower than recommended by the World Health Organisation. It says at least 1 per cent to 3 per cent of the population should donate blood to ensure adequate clinical supplies.
Experts said a “blood crisis” had hit 50 out of 70 major cities on the mainland since February, Shandong Satellite Television reported. Eighty per cent of operations had to be postponed in some hospitals due to the lack of donor blood, it said.
Blood dealers could easily be found at government-run donor centres and they paid high rates to secure supplies, the report said.
Some dealers earned more than 1 million yuan (HK$1.2 million) a year, it said.
The commercial sale of blood is banned on the mainland and people convicted can face up to five years in jail.
Mainland regulations stipulate that patients who undergo surgery have to buy blood from hospitals.
If the blood type they need is out of stock, they have to find family members or friends to donate.
The television report said many patients from small towns who visited big city hospitals to get better care did not have friends or relatives who could give blood.
Blood dealers recruit donors through the internet and compete with each other to supply the patients at hospitals, the report said.
Wang Hongjie, deputy director of the Beijing Red Cross Blood Centre, told China Newsweek magazine that reserves at his organisation were lowest in the weeks before and after the Lunar New Year festival as college students and migrant workers – the biggest donors – returned to their home towns.
“At an extremely poor time, the aggregated blood stock in Beijing can support all hospitals across the city for only three days,” he said.
One source of comfort is that hygiene standards surrounding donated blood have much improved since the 1990s when huge numbers of people on the mainland were infected with HIV after receiving contaminated supplies from infected donors.
Blood is now donated at official centres.
Previously, sellers would draw supplies themselves, often in unhygienic conditions and with few checks on donors’ medical history.
In many cases disposable syringes were used repeatedly, massively increasing the risk of infection by viruses such as HIV.