Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Give blood, save a life

Sweetened condensed milk in a tin. Yum! In Australia, at around $3 a can, it's considered more a luxury than an everyday item. Its primary purpose is as an ingredient in desserts (and also for fat spoilt kids whose moron parents let them suck it out of a tube like they're drinking skim milk!).

In Vietnam, at less than $1 per can, it's used to sweeten Vietnamese coffee (Ca Phe Sua) at street stalls and coffee shops throughout the country. Given many Vietnamese households are without refrigeration, particularly in rural areas, sweetened canned milk is also used as an alternative to fresh milk as it's cheaper and has a longer shelf life.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when I was given a bag of sweetened condensed milk cans as a thank you present at a blood donation centre in Ho Chi Minh City this morning. Afterall, in many Australian Red Cross Blood Donation Centres donors are given a free meal.

But what I found disturbing when I got back to my office, feeling no worse for having shed 250mls of my blood, was that I also found an envelope containing 50,000VND amongst the cans (along with two blisters of B12 vitamin tablets which I was encouraged to take by the nurse to make me feel better!).

I immediately felt sick, like I had done something immoral. This can't be right. I went there to do good and I left with a bag of cans and an envelope of money that I don't deserve (let alone need). I felt ashamed.

Even though (for me) it was a small amount of money, I'm not quite sure why I had such a strong reaction to being paid for my blood.

In many countries paying blood donors is viewed as an acceptable way of encouraging people to donate. In Vietnam where horrific motorcycle accidents are an everyday occurence it is essential that healthy people are encouraged to donate blood, so this can only be a good thing...right?

But a scene from this morning's donation drive has played over and over in my mind, adding to my sense of discomfort. 

At the centre there was a young, skinny guy, barely 18 years old, who had the unkempt appearance of someone who struggles to get by from one day to the next. He went into the blood donation van after me with a big smile on his face. What I didn't realise at the time was that, for him, this was pay day.

In Australia, we donate blood because it's the right thing to do and, lets face it, for the feel good factor. Here, where poverty is a sad reality, blood donation centres offer a harsh insight into the facts of life in Vietnam.

No matter where you live in the world, donating blood is essential. I'll continue to donate while I live in Vietnam, but next time I'm going to make sure my goodie bag goes to someone who really needs it.


  1. I go for the pikelets, and because I have Oneg blood, I call it superhero blood. It is an interesting moral issue isnt it, selling your blood for $3???

  2. Certainly is. I guess as long as the blood is healthy (and they screen it properly!) it shouldn't matter how they come by it...paid or not. For those of us not used to being paid for it I guess it would have been nice to be given the option!