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Demand For Plasma Increasing: Donor Numbers Need To Double By 2022

New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) has today released new figures that reveal another 8,000 plasma donors are needed to meet New Zealand’s growing demand.

Plasma demand is increasing by more than 12 per cent year on year; the need for plasma donations increased by 45 per cent between 2015 and 2019. It is estimated that in the next two years, New Zealand will need to collect well over 100,000 plasma donations per year. New Zealand currently has approximately 10,000 plasma donors, with another 8,000 donors needed by June 2022.

Plasma – the gold-coloured liquid that makes up half our blood – is used for an ever-increasing number of conditions, including autoimmune disorders, accident and trauma patients, boosting the immune systems of people with low levels of antibodies, and providing special clotting factor concentrates for people with bleeding disorders. To meet growing demand, new plasma donors are being sought, and existing plasma donors asked to give more than six times per year.

“While we currently able to meet demand, the need for more plasma donors, and for more donations from existing plasma donors, is very real,” says Asuka Burge, NZBS National Manager, Marketing and Communications. “New Zealand will soon require more plasma donations than whole blood donations, and we currently rely on regular plasma donors to ensure we have enough; one plasma donation can give up to three times the amount of plasma as a regular whole blood donation.

“Plasma donors can also give more frequently; because red blood cells are returned to the body, people can donate up to every two weeks, as opposed to every three months. Plasma donation also takes marginally more time than whole blood donation – around 90 minutes as opposed to 60 minutes.”

NZBS is confident New Zealanders will step up to the challenge, ensuring enough plasma is donated to meet the country’s needs. “New Zealanders are incredibly generous, and we’re hoping that by educating people on why plasma is so crucial, we won’t need to face a situation where we are unable to meet demand from within our own country.”

NZBS is often asked why, in the face of a shortage, eligible New Zealanders don’t get paid for donating. “One of the pillars of our safe and secure ‘gold standard’ blood supply is that we are enshrined by a law stating all donations have to be voluntary and non-remunerated,” says Burge. “That’s why we recognise our donors in other ways, like the creation of our Gold Club. Our plasma donors belong to one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. “

One recipient of plasma donation is six-year-old Harry McPhail. Harry was born with X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA), a rare genetic disorder that means his body can’t produce mature B-cells, the antibodies which fight antibacterial infections. After three hospital admissions for pneumonia in his first year of life, Harry was given immunoglobulin from blood plasma which is injected into him weekly. Although Harry will need this treatment for the rest of his life, he hasn’t been readmitted to hospital since.

“Harry is now healthy and happy, and thanks to plasma donors he lives a normal life. He’s very sporty, and he loves soccer best,” says Harry’s mum Marie. “It’s amazing – every week he is given these little bottles of liquid people have donated, and now he doesn’t get sick any more. We are so thankful to the donors for giving their time and keeping Harry healthy.”

While NZBS is asking all eligible donors to come forward, some New Zealanders go above and beyond to help others. Annette Roberts gave her first blood donation when she was just 16, switching to plasma donation in 1980 on the advice of a nurse. Since then, she’s been joined in the plasma donor chairs by her husband Keith, sons Grant and Mark, and grandson Kodey. Between the three generations they have amassed a whopping 1,017 donations, earning them a special place in NZBS’ ‘Gold Club’ of plasma donors.

“Doing something for someone who can’t do it themselves is brilliant – I don’t feel any different after I’ve donated, and if it saves someone who’s sick, or a child who needs a plasma-derived treatment every week to survive, it’s worth it,” says Roberts, who gave her 415th lifetime donation in February.


What is plasma?

Plasma is the straw-coloured ‘liquid gold’ component of blood that makes up just over half our blood. It can be used to create up to 11 blood products that help people who have lost a lot of blood through trauma, accident or surgery, those going through chemotherapy, and people with low levels of antibodies. Plasma is also instrumental in controlling autoimmune disorders, and providing special clotting factor concentrates for people with bleeding disorders.

How is plasma collected?

Plasma is obtained through apheresis – blood is temporarily taken from the vein and put through a machine which separates the plasma, before returning the red blood cells to the donor. The process takes around 90 minutes, and collects up to three times the usual volume of plasma, than can be removed in a single whole blood donation. Plasma taken in blood donation are more easily replaced by the donor than red blood cells, and larger quantities can be taken because red blood cells are returned to the donor.

Is plasma collected by blood type?

AB blood type is the universal blood type for plasma. This means AB plasma can be given to anyone. People with AB positive, AB negative, B positive and B negative make up 15 per cent of the population in New Zealand, and are encouraged to donate plasma, while O Negative blood types are asked to donate whole blood as it is the universal blood type for red blood cells.

Why do we need more plasma?

The rise in plasma demand is primarily due to the increased need for immunoglobulin products, also known as IVIg, such as Intragam P and Evogam. IVIg products are concentrated solutions of antibodies – natural proteins present in blood that are essential for stopping infection. IVIg products are used to treat people with low levels of antibodies, either hereditary or through illness such as infections, and by cancers of the white blood cells and bone marrow. It’s also used to treat some autoimmune disorders.

How can I donate plasma?

Make an appointment at any one of the NZBS donor centres to find out if you are eligible to donate. To become a plasma donor, donors must meet plasma eligibility criteria. This includes meeting height and weight criteria, and having good veins.


About NZBS:

New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) is a not-for-profit Crown entity responsible for the collection, processing, testing and storage and distribution of all blood and blood products in New Zealand.

NZBS relies on voluntary and non-remunerated blood donations from individuals around the country in order to provide a constant supply of precious blood and blood products used by health services to save thousands of lives.

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