World Blood Donor Day (Or: Only an hour of your time)

Today is World Blood Donor Day. As some of you might be aware I donated blood when I used to live in America and I currently donate blood in the Netherlands. I donated yesterday, coincidentally.

All blood donors received an email which included a link to an online pdf. It was a really interesting read (it was about blood donation in general and blood donation during corona times). However since it is a pdf you will need to know Dutch to read it unfortunately. But the pdf also includes a design originally drawn by Dick Bruna in 1974 for the Dutch blood bank. It’s so cute!

It is a bit different donating in the Netherlands (but only a bit):

  • blood donations are handled by Sanquin, a non-profit organization
  • to donate blood you go to one of the Sanquin locations (unlike America where they go to libraries and schools and hold blood drives)
  • before you can donate blood the first time you need to visit a Sanquin location where they do an intake exam and draw a bit of blood for testing purposes
  • if your intake exam goes well you will be put on their register as a blood donor. You need to wait for them to contact you to come donate blood, every time.
    • gender matters – males are allow to donate up to five times a year, women up to three times a year (for whole blood – plasma is every two weeks and uses appointments)
    • blood type matters – the Netherlands is a small country and blood doesn’t last long, so some blood types are get called in more often

I received a donor request earlier in the month. You can donate within two weeks of the date on the card, without needing to pick a specific date or time. For various reasons, I knew that the second week would be a bit easier so I was aiming for one of those days.

However earlier this week they called and asked if I would be willing to come in on Saturday (yesterday). I had heard that they were open on Saturday for appointments only due to the corona crisis so I wasn’t too surprised. I choose the time slot 08:00-09:00, sacrificing sleeping in. Oh well. But I was happy to go in on a non-workday and I know they wanted to spread out the donors a bit more, so it made sense.

Of course things were a bit different this time than my last donation in January. Before you can enter the location you are questioned outside about your health. For instance if you have hay fever you are not allowed to donate, because the symptoms are similar enough to the coronavirus (more information in Dutch). As I was leaving after my donation I did see them turn someone away outside, although it might have been someone who was trying to donate out of good will even though they weren’t called in. Or perhaps they didn’t have a pre-booked Saturday appointment.

As soon as you enter you are directed to the left and to a small room with a sink to wash your hands. As usual there are signs on the floor telling you to keep your distance and where to stand. All workers were wearing face masks (it wasn’t required or expected of donors, however). There were no drink pitchers out on the tables. There were still drinks available, of course, just not out on the tables. The usual sugary snacks were available.

Sanquin is also working on testing for the coronavirus at the national (not individual) level. This is to see how many blood donors have built up antibodies for the coronavirus to give a possible indication of how many residents have immunity for the virus. Generally Sanquin chooses a random week or two to test all of the blood that was donated. But donors should not expect to hear the results of their test, as that isn’t the point. In early May Sanquin and the Dutch Ministry of Health ordered 1 million blood tests to expand their testing even further (see related page at the Sanquin website, in Dutch).

But all in all – it was pretty much the same as my other blood donation appointments so that was nice to see. I’ll probably get called in again sometime in the fall or early winter.

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