Nearly a month has passed since the Japan Red Cross Society stopped giving gift coupons to blood donors, and now concerns are being raised that the move will result in fewer younger people providing blood.
The Red Cross had traditionally given telephone cards or gift coupons for such items as books, magazines, compact discs or beer to blood donors in an effort to increase donations.
It decided to terminate this practice, however, when a new law was enacted in July to ban the sale of blood and to help make Japan self-sufficient in its supply of both blood and blood products. The ban on blood sales took effect this month, and the law will be fully enforced next July.
Giving gift coupons to blood donors could be misinterpreted as buying blood, Red Cross officials said.
Japan has long had stable supplies of blood for transfusions, and outright purchases ended in 1990, thanks to efforts by blood-product manufacturers.
At present, all blood products manufactured in Japan are derived from donated blood. Nevertheless, experts say imported blood products still include purchased blood.
In line with the new law, the government will oblige manufacturers to label their products to show where the blood came from and whether it was donated.
But many foreign firms, apparently concerned about losing the Japanese market, have argued that if blood collected by the Red Cross in exchange for gift coupons is considered donated, then blood collected by paying money should also be considered as such, according to sources close to the issue.
The Red Cross terminated the practice out of concern that such arguments might undermine the validity of the proposed labeling system.
Nevertheless, some Red Cross officials working at the grassroots level said they fear young people will lose interest in donating blood if they are not offered something in return, thus jeopardizing blood self-sufficiency.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, however, is taking a wait-and-see approach, saying it does not believe stopping the distribution of gift coupons will adversely affect blood supplies.
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