Crouched on the sidewalk at the corner of Ang Duong Street and Norodom Boulevard, near the National Blood Transfusion Center, Chheang Sary said he hoped to sell his blood for extra cash.
“Friends told me that I could come here to sell blood for $5 a liter,” he said on Monday.
Chheang Sary came to Phnom Penh a month ago from Svay Rieng province to find construction work. But now the 32-year-old is trying to earn cash at the transfusion center.
Unfortunately for donors like Chheang Sary who seek payment, the center does not accept blood from paid donors, said Huk Kim Cheng, center administrator.
“Normally, paid donors are high risk. It is very difficult to ask questions and believe their answers regarding HIV/AIDS,” he said. In Cambodia, blood transfusions are only accepted if they are from unpaid donors, Huk Kim Cheng said.
Last year, the center received 11,160 donations. Roughly 4 percent of the blood originated from spontaneous donors, who came to give blood of their own accord, he said.
An additional 19.1 percent was collected from external donors at schools and pagodas’ mobile blood centers. The remaining 77.2 percent was received from replacement donors, Huk Kim Cheng said.
The replacement system consists of having a relative or friend of the person in need of a transfusion donate blood to the center in exchange for screened blood, he said.
But too often, family members and friends refuse to do it, believing that giving blood is unhealthy or makes people sick.
This is where paid donors like Phan Doeun—who says he regularly gives blood at the National Blood Transfusion Center—offer their services, Phan Doeun said Monday.
The 20-year-old alleged that people at the center have paid him as much as $5 per liter for his blood. Over the past year, he has given 10 liters of blood, which the staff offers at a much higher fee to patients and families not wishing to donate their own blood, Phan Doeun said.
Huk Kim Cheng denied Phan Doeun’s claims.
“We have no system to pay for blood donations,” he said. “Any staff at the bank here or at the hospital will not be forgiven if they [take advantage of] families or donors,” he said.
However, families have been known to pay strangers who then pose as a relative or family friend, Huk Kim Cheng said. These fake replacement donors are interviewed before they donate blood, but it is difficult to detect who is who, especially since family members have been known to accompany the paid person, he said. “Sometimes we are not clear if they [are] family donors or people who were paid by relatives,” he added.
Kaye Vickson, blood safety advisor for the World Health Organization, agreed, saying that it is difficult for blood centers to monitor paid donors who lie during interviews.
“If a family is asked to give blood, and if they go on to pay someone to give blood, that is completely out of the control of the blood transfusion service,” she said.
Regardless of who is paying replacement donors, Kaye Vickson said that blood from these donors is discarded more often than blood from voluntary donors because it is more likely to be infected with HIV and hepatitis B.
According to 2004 figures from the National Blood Center, last year 4.1 percent of the blood received from replacement donors tested positive for HIV/AIDS, compared to 0.4 percent received from external donors and 1.7 percent from spontaneous donors.
Blood from replacement donors was also more likely to have hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis.
Both Vickson and Huk Kim Cheng said that Cambodians’ resistance to donating blood is medically unfounded.
“It’s a good thing to do and it won’t make them sick,” said Vickson, adding that historically, Cambodia has had a low number of donors.
“Anywhere in the world, your best donors are voluntary, non-paid donors,” she said.