The Japanese Red Cross Society and the Japan Bone Marrow Bank are struggling to maintain blood and bone marrow supplies because the coronavirus pandemic has caused a precipitous drop in donations and blood drives.
The Japanese Red Cross Society is asking the public for cooperation so it can maintain a stable supply. The Japan Bone Marrow Bank, meanwhile, is making every effort to ensure marrow transplants are conducted under safe conditions at hospitals where the situation is chaotic with the pandemic.
On March 2, the Japanese Red Cross Society used its website to warn that blood stocks were plummeting.
In Japan, more than 3,000 patients receive blood transfusions every day and about 13,000 daily donations are required. Donations are accepted at Red Cross facilities nationwide and via buses dispatched to companies and schools.
The situation, however, changed dramatically in February after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during a meeting of the government’s task force on infectious diseases that events across the nation would have to be rescheduled. A week later, on Feb. 25, the government adopted a policy asking the public to refrain from nonessential outings in areas where coronavirus infections were on the rise. Blood donations fell soon after.
According to data the Japanese Red Cross Society provided to the health ministry on April 21, 1,829 blood drives scheduled for Feb. 15 to April 19 were canceled. If that period is extend through June, cancellations will total 3,063.
“More people will continue to stay at home, which means the number of people who will give blood in donation rooms or (mobile units on) the streets will be extremely limited,’’ said a Red Cross official. “Our mission is to provide a stable supply of blood. We will continue to do whatever we can.”
The situation is similar for the Japan Bone Marrow Bank. The bank traditionally tries to solicit donors during Red Cross donation drives. Masaru Kojima, a spokesman for the bank, said even though registration levels may not have been affected in March, they probably will be in the months to come.
The marrow bank is particularly struggling with how to ensure the safety of donors and staff amid the severe disruptions the COVID-19 infections are causing at medical institutions involved in harvesting marrow and performing transplants.
Katsumi Orihara, who coordinates donors and recipients at the marrow bank, said an increasing number of hospitals are refusing to accept some donors, particularly from outside their prefectures, to prevent hospital-contracted infections.
Bone marrow recipients are also facing difficulties. According to Midori Ogawa, a transplantation coordinator, there was one case in which a patient was transferred to another facility due to the threat of such infections. Other such cases involved recipients coming into contact with doctors infected by the coronavirus.
The marrow bank is managing the situation by conducting stricter health checks on donors and their families. It has also eased its restriction on allowing interviews by phone, rather than in person, when obtaining consent for donating bone marrow, and has started allowing the frozen preservation of bone marrow fluid, which had been generally prohibited as an emergency measure.
“There are patients waiting for transplants,” said Kojima. “Even if the coronavirus spreads, we can’t stop what we are doing.”