From the 95,000 or so Maltese individuals who are able to donate blood, only approximately 12,000 actually do, which means that around 80 per cent of people who could give blood, do not. This percentage was estimated during an interview by this newspaper with Malta National Blood Transfusion Service Practicing Nurse Tony Micallef.
Mr Micallef estimates that whilst 190,000 citizens are in the age criteria to donate blood (between the ages of 17 and 68), about half (95,000) are within the right health and lifestyle criteria to do so.
He explained: "Actually, I would say that about 23,000 individuals turn up to give blood every year, but many would not be able to give at that present moment because they would not match the criteria at that specific time - because they have a cold or something of the sort - but we always encourage them to come back anyway."
He also pointed out: "It doesn't mean that all those people who don't give blood aren't interested in doing so. People are often scared to do so, or they don't have the time.
"We collect close to 18,000 475ml bags of donated blood a year but from those 18,000, there are people who donate more than once, so when you talk about the number of individuals, rather than the number of bags, it goes down to roughly 12,000 people," Mr Micallef said.
When asked to elaborate on people who want to give blood but are frightened of doing so, he said that the fear of donating blood is manifested in many forms, including a fear of needles, a fear of fainting and concern about an illness being identified through the individual's blood testing, to mention a few. "However, it's mostly needles," he said; "needles instil fear."
The blood testing of donors is needed in order to ensure that the patient on the receiving end of the donation receives the safest possible blood product. Three samples of blood are taken with each donation: testing for HIV 1 and 2, Hepatitis B and C, Syphilis, special liver substances (enzymes) and for blood type.
There are plenty of reasons why people should donate blood. The facts presented on the service's website clearly explain that a large number of people depend on the continued generosity of those who are healthy, that blood may be the difference between life and death for the person who needs a transfusion, that giving blood will not affect the health of the donor and that the body replenishes controlled blood loss by itself, amongst other.
Mr Micallef explained how many people have misconceptions about giving blood and said that this is an area where more awareness must be raised. He clarified that if a prospective donor has had a tattoo or a body piercing, he or she can give blood after six months have passed.
If a woman is on the contraceptive pill or on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), then they can also give blood. People with high levels of cholesterol, or high blood pressure that is controlled with medication, can also donate blood.
Similarly, a person with Type 2 diabetes (not requiring insulin), is also able to donate blood.
Another common misconception Mr Micallef wanted to clarify is that people suffering from an underactive thyroid and taking a thyroid-stimulating hormone can also give blood.
At the time of the interview, Mr Micallef said that the amount of donated blood available in relation to blood needed is "just enough - five days ago it was not good, last week was bad. It depends on the demand for blood, and there are many patients from different sectors who will need a donation, including cancer patients, people having had surgery, patients in the renal unit, pregnant women and the victims of serious accidents."
He explained that serious accidents are, of course, the most unpredictable, adding that "last year there were 294 serious incidents."
Bearing this in mind, it is also interesting to note that, according to information provided by the Blood Transfusion Service, one or two serious accidents are often enough to drain the blood stocks. "On average, 50 bags of blood are needed every day, by default," he added. "Sometimes we get 100, sometimes we need 20."
When asked what could be done to increase the number of blood donors, one of Mr Micallef's suggestions was to come up with a structured way of increasing education on blood donating in schools, "where the subject of blood donation will be taught in a professional, well-informed way," he said.
He also mentioned being in contact with groups and communities. As an example, he said that the National Youth Council (Kunsill Nazzjonali Taz-Zgħazagħ) is currently running a project to encourage young people to give blood, such as the event organised at the University of Malta last week for giving blood. "What we do each year is contact churches and villages on special occasions such as the village festa. For example, during the festa, the band clubs promote blood donation as part of their activities," Mr Micallef explained.
When it comes to eligibility to give blood, the final decision is made by the medical staff at the National Blood Transfusion Service, but the eligible age group is between 17 and 68. As stated on the Malta National Blood Transfusion Service's website: "Maltese blood donors are enough to cater for the local requests; help us keep it this way".
For more information, visit the website on www.blood.gov.mt, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the Facebook page at National Blood Transfusion Service - Malta or call freephone 8007 4313.
Donations take place at the Blood Bank, located near the entrance to St Luke's Hospital in Gwardamangia, which is open seven days a week from 8 am to 6 pm. Prospective donors are required to produce their ID card.