YOUTH blood and plasma donation opportunities have been slashed by a new Australian Red Cross Blood Service policy.
Zac Calvin of Taree High School recently reclined in a chair to donate blood at the collection centre in Macquarie Street, Taree. It was his first donation, and first needle in a vein as he had never needed a blood test in 16 years.
"After the first pinch", Zac said he was fine about the process of donating blood and added that the decision to donate was not a hard call to make.
"Amani told me to do it and you also get free food," Zac laughed.
Amani Jensen-Bentley is a fellow Taree High School student and also a youth ambassador for the service. Her job is to get young bodies into the collection centre in Taree to make donations and educate students about the need for blood and plasma donations.
Zac said he would now also become an advocate for the service and added that "as soon as my friends turn 16 I will get them to donate." He said he would definitely mention that he got to enjoy a sausage roll and a banana milkshake after his blood donation.
Amani and Taree High School's second youth ambassador, Holly Pole-Cini, will have to work a little harder to recruit more young people as the new blood service policy means Zac can only make one donation every 12 months.
Last year Zac could have returned to the centre after 12 weeks to make another blood donation in exchange for a milkshake and sausage roll.
According to the blood service, recent donor research has shown that youth donors are at an increased risk of having low iron stores because of the increased iron requirements which are needed for growth and development. To ensure the wellbeing of its young donors it has decided that youth under the age of 18 will not be able to make another donation for 12 months from their last donation date or until their 18th birthday.
Previously youth donors aged 16 and 17-years-old could donate blood or plasma every 12 weeks.
While blood donation is safe, red blood cells are rich in iron and blood donation results in iron loss.
The time taken to replace this iron after a donation can vary and for some donors more than 12 weeks may be required between donations. Low iron can lead to tiredness, difficulty concentrating and low haemoglobin.
Youth donors generally have lower baseline iron stores than adults and have increased iron requirements for growth and development. Iron is removed with each blood donation hence the risk of blood donation contributing to iron deficiency increases with frequent donation. The blood service recommends that students do not donate in the days before exams or important tests. Although most people are fine following donation, it is better not to have any distractions during such an important time.
The blood service is keen to increase the number of youth donors to compensate for impact of the policy change.
The Taree blood donation centre is busy but could be busier, according to blood service spokesman, Greg French.
The centre processes about 8000 bags of donated blood or plasma each year, however he says more donors are needed as the demand for plasma donations is set to double in 10 years.
"We are all growing older and living longer. One in three people will require a life saving transfusion but only one in 30 people donate," Greg explained.
"Technology means the donation of one person will help three people and we can make 18 life-saving medical products from blood plasma.
"A lot of people have healthy blood but never give thought to donating. We need to change that."
Taree High School students, Holly Pole-Cini and Amani Jensen-Bentley will continue to work with Greg to try to boost youth donation rates at Taree High School and in the wider Manning Valley community.