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Complex rules in place for safety’s sake, but Red Cross still wants your blood

by Ashley Thompson

Some readers may have misunderstood the intent of our May 22 column, “Foreigners disqualified as blood donors for wide range of reasons,” which was meant to illustrate, through readers’ responses, that if a foreigner is turned away from giving blood in Japan, it happens more often because of standard health and safety reasons than Japanese ability.

So, to clarify, foreigners can give blood in Japan, and the Japan Red Cross Society wants people to donate blood, regardless of nationality. They emphasized that they appreciate the “good will” of people interested in helping out. However, as mentioned in the previous columns, some donation centers might turn someone away because they can’t speak or read Japanese fluently, and others may not give a clear reason for refusing a donation, but it is ultimately up to the overseeing doctor when you go.

Some centers may have never had a non-Japanese person walk in with the intent to give blood before, and as such may not be fully prepared if the person can’t read or speak Japanese fluently. Remember, they have to ensure the health and safety of the donor as well as the blood.

However, though some might be disqualified from donating blood (again, for standard reasons or occasionally because of the language barrier), others have been able to give blood in Japan with few or no problems, like Paul.

“I have successfully given blood in Japan numerous times (more than 10),” he said. “On occasion I have been turned away but it has always been for a good reason, e.g. I had just arrived back in Japan from overseas a few days earlier, I had a toothache, among other things. These reasons apply to foreigners and Japanese alike.

“I have always found the blood donor people appreciative of my giving blood and very helpful — I have no complaints. I think that it is reasonable that donors are expected to speak Japanese because a) this is Japan, and b) it is for our safety and the safety of others.”

E.C. said she enjoys giving blood in Japan:

“I’ve given blood several times, usually at local festivals when there is a ‘blood bus’ parked off to one side. I can’t read very well, but I got someone to help me read through the form where you say where you have and haven’t been or what you have and haven’t done. Some of the questions are pretty awkward (as you know if you have donated blood in an English-speaking country too), but we sailed through it with good humor. They always gave me tons of juice, snacks and a box of 10 eggs (or 20) for my trouble, and thanked me profusely. Giving blood in Japan is really gratifying!”

Finally, I asked the Red Cross a few additional questions to elaborate on some of the blood donation rules listed in our May 29 column, “Safe blood requires strict, and detailed, standards.

We mentioned that those who are “currently taking oral prescriptions other than vitamins or certain generic digestive medicines that have no harmful side-effects” are ineligible to give blood. However, women who take birth control pills (oral contraceptives) are allowed to donate in Japan. Those who have recently taken emergency contraceptive pills, on the other hand, are not.

Regarding sexually transmitted diseases, not including HIV or AIDS (which we referred to in the May 29 column): Those who have carried or been infected with syphilis are not allowed to donate blood in Japan. If you have had gonorrhea, chlamydia, venereal warts (human papilloma virus) or genital herpes, you can give blood six months after making a complete recovery, as determined by a doctor.

Ashley Thompson writes unique how-tos about living in Japan at www.survivingnjapan.com. Send all your questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp