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Falling birth rates and the revised secondary school structure have been blamed for the number of first-time blood donors last year dropping to a three-year low.

The chief executive and medical

director of the Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, Dr Lee Cheuk-kwong, said the number of first-time donors fell 4.9 per cent to 36,993 last year.

Among them, the number of donors aged 16 – the lower age limit for blood donation in the city – dropped to 7,109, down 23.3 per cent compared with 2014 and a 28.7 per cent decrease from 2013.

But while the number of first-time donors slipped, there were a record 261,110 donations overall for blood, platelet and plasma last year, up 2.8 per cent from the 254,053 units in 2014.

Lee said the drop in first-time donors was related to falling birth rates – down from 59,300 in 1997 to 51,300 in 1999 – corresponding to young people who turned 16 in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

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The participation rate of 16-year-old donors fell from 16.8 per cent in 2013 to 13.9 per cent last year.

Another reason for the drop, Lee said, was the 3-3-4 secondary school structure, which was introduced in 2009 and meant students had only three years of senior secondary education instead of four.

“The new structure means we have fewer opportunities to recruit donors in schools, as most secondary six students are not in school physically because they are preparing for the HKDSE examination,” Lee said.

“The new system also leads to more activities for students, giving us less time to reach out to them.”

To rectify the downward trend, Lee unveiled the Millennium Cool Blood Donors Programme to recruit more first-time donors this year, when those born in 2000 turn 16.

There was a spike in the birth rate that year as it was the Year of the Dragon and the start of a new millennium. The organisation is planning activities with a “cool” theme to encourage millennials to donate blood and spread the message.

READ MORE: Red Cross appeals for more blood donations as some would-be donors found unfit

Despite the number of blood units collected last year being higher than that of the annual target, the Red Cross forecast that it would be unable to maintain the blood inventory at a stable and satisfactory level, with the city’s population ageing and demand for blood from hospitals remaining at a high level. As such, it needed to recruit 1,100 donors daily moving forward. Last year the service had an average of 950 to 980 donors per day.

Referring to the forecast of blood use in 2016 from all hospitals in Hong Kong, the organisation estimated that demand for red cell products would rise by 2.1 per cent.

To fully satisfy the needs of clinical blood transfusion for all patients in Hong Kong, the service has to collect no fewer than 266,000 units of whole blood in 2016, an increase of around 10,000 from 2015.