When 18-year-old Jastej Kaur Sidhu went to donate blood for the first time, she was a bit nervous. But by volunteering with the Blood Donation by Sikh Nation campaign since she was a child, she had also seen how donating blood affects people in her community positively.
“[What motivates me is] to give back in such a great way,” she says.
Ethnic groups are underrepresented in Canada’s blood donor base. With an aging – and largely Caucasian – donor population and with the proportion
of immigrants in Canada set to grow, there’s a need to engage more people of different cultural and ethnic groups to become blood donors. During National Blood Donor Week, June 10–16, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) will be working with its ethnic community partners to build awareness around blood donation in different cultures.
Recruiting ethnic donors
British Columbia has almost 59,000 active blood donors. Canadian Blood Services aims to recruit 12,000 new donors this year and is hoping to engage people of Chinese, South Asian and Filipino backgrounds. Its research reveals that only seven per cent of blood donors self-identify as a visible minority, whereas this proportion in Vancouver’s total population is almost 42 per cent.
“There’s a gap, [an] opportunity for us to build towards that,” says Ed Yee, director of donor and clinic services with CBS.
CBS addresses that gap in part with its Partners for Life Program. CBS works with 800 partners, ranging from large companies to small faith-based organizations. Yee says that one of the most important partners in Vancouver is the Sikh nation, which organizes an annual blood donation drive called Blood Donation by Sikh Nation. Sukhdeep Singh is one of the people who started this campaign in 1999 to commemorate the violence against Sikhs in India in 1984. He and some friends wanted to do something meaningful to prevent further bloodshed and save lives and decided to start rallying for blood donation.
“Let’s bring awareness in the society [of] how important the lives are, and we should step forward to save them,” says Singh.
According to Sikh faith, every Sikh is bound to serve humanity without discrimination. Donating blood is part of a Sikh’s responsibility, says Singh.
Cultural influence or personal choice?
Yet the decision to become a blood donor is not necessarily culturally inspired, but more a personal choice. For example, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), blood is viewed as a system in balance where blood (yin) and qi, or energy (yang), are always working together. But according to Dr. Henry Lu, principal and professor at the International College of TCM, Chinese are no different than other populations when it comes to donating blood. He supports donating blood and emphasizes that TCM’s view of blood has nothing to do with blood donation.
“You can‘t say the Chinese have any unique concept of blood donation,” he says.
Yee agrees that donating is largely a personal choice, though he does suggest that culture and upbringing do affect people’s decision. For example, Yee suggests that in many Asian communities, there simply isn’t as much awareness about blood donation, which explains why they are underrepresented among donors. That is why CBS works with community leaders: the opinion of respected people in the community is extremely powerful, says Yee.
As for Kaur Sidhu, she’s glad she is part of a community that recognizes the value of giving blood.
or call 1 888 2 DONATE.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is eligible to donate?
The minimum age is 17 years old. One must be in general good health and feeling well on the day of the donation.
How often can one donate?
Once every 56 days
Do I get paid for donating blood?
No. Canada’s blood system is founded on the principle of gratuity. Just as recipients do not pay for the blood products they receive, donors are not paid for the blood they give.
What are some common misconceptions about donating blood?
Ed Yee: “That it hurts. [But] if you can pinch yourself as hard as you can, and if you can handle that, you can handle a blood donation.”
Ed Yee: “That it takes a lot of time: It doesn’t. The average donation time is somewhere around the 45-50 minute stage.”
Sukhdeep Singh: ”[That there is] the risk of infection, risk of getting some sort of disease. [But we are] telling them how safe the blood system is in Canada, they’re not going to drain you out.”
Virtually all Chinese people have blood type B+.