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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 01:46 GMT
Ethnic groups urged to give blood
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Vijay Chauhan, blood donor
Vijay made his first donation recently
Someone somewhere in the UK will have received a very special gift from Vijay Chauhan - a pint of blood.

Like many young Asians, the 26-year-old, from East London, had never donated blood before.

It was not part of his cultural heritage and although he was not opposed to the idea of donating it had just never occurred to him.

Then his religious leaders urged him to give blood as an act of faith to help others in need.

I will be giving again at the earliest possible opportunity and on a consistent basis for as long as I am eligible
Vijay Chauhan

Each day the National Blood Service (NBS) collects about 7,000 donations to maintain supplies to hospitals in England and Wales.

But on average just 200 of these donations are from ethnic minority donors.

Zeeshan Asghar, from the NBS, said they are now targeting these groups for donations, and they have now received endorsements from Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faith leaders.

Improving the odds

He said blood donations like Vijay's were vital to ensure people in need get the best possible match.

"We are encouraging people from the widest communities to come forward to ensure that whenever someone is in need of blood or bone marrow, there is a matching type available.

Blood donation
7,000 donations are needed daily

"Some blood types are more common within ethnic communities, and with bone marrow, you are much more likely to find a match from your own ethnic group."

Cultural differences have been cited as a possible reason why donation rates are so low among the ethnic communities.

However, Mr Asghar said donations did take place in the countries from where the UK's ethnic communities originated.

He said a simple lack of awareness of the issue was likely to be more a problem.

There was also some evidence that people from ethnic communities wrongly believed their faith forbade them to donate. In fact, none of the major faiths practised in the UK forbids blood donation.

"With the 'Circle of Life' campaign and support from key faith leaders, we are trying to break down barriers to show that there is nothing to fear," he said.

"Individuals can make a huge difference to the lives of people in their own community and there is no better gift than the gift of life."

An act of faith

Vijay, was inspired to help, along with over 800 others across the UK who are involved with Swadhyay Parivar - an organisation based on the Hindu teachings of Reverend Pandurangshastri Athvale to do social good.

The NBS is an integral part of the NHS deliver and screen blood, blood components, blood products and tissues from our 15 blood centres to anywhere in England and North Wales
Every year the NBS collect, test, process, store and issue 2.1 million blood donations.
The service relies entirely on donors, who give up to three times a year

He has now vowed to continue to keep donating because he sees it is a way of helping others.

"I will be giving again at the earliest possible opportunity and on a consistent basis for as long as I am eligible," he said.

"I am certainly not alone in my sentiment.

"Those who have given blood have done so not in a fit of generosity, not because we have been moved by a tear-jerking clip in a TV advert.

"They have given blood as part of ongoing efforts to develop themselves, get to know one another, remove barriers, see the commonalities rather than dote on differences."

Blood donation. Michael Donne, Science Photo Library
Donors can give blood three times a year

Mitesh Sheth, of Swadhyay Parivar agreed that it was a practical way for most people, in whatever financial circumstances, can help others.

"You may not have money to give, but there is something else you can give.

"We realised that a number of Asians might have hang-ups about giving blood, worries about what was required, what might not be.

"It is just not routine," he said, adding that they hoped their efforts might make a difference.

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