At the end of August 2023, IPST (Instituto Português do Sangue e da Transplantação/Portuguese Institute of Blood and Transplantation) reported a shortage of blood donations. August is traditionally a vacation month in many European countries. Therefore, such reports of donor shortages are natural. Traditionally, in addition to August, the number of donors decreases significantly in December and January. In addition to vacations and holidays, the number of donors is also affected by seasonal illnesses.
Some have already donated blood, some have never donated blood, but moving to Portugal and other external powerful impulses can trigger a desire to help others. In this article, we are going to tell you how to become a donor in Portugal.
495 liters of blood are needed every day!
According to the IPST, about 1100 units of blood are needed in hospitals every day. A unit of blood is 450 ml of material, i.e., the amount that is taken from one donor per appointment (sometimes double the amount is donated). This means that every day Portugal requires 495 liters of blood!
In Portugal, there were 243,614 donors in 2022, according to the IPST representative, including 32,930 first-time donors. People donate blood at different intervals, not all are regular donors. According to one expert, it is ideal for the country to have 300,000 donors to maintain the required level of blood supply. According to Manuel Pissaro, Portugal's health minister from 2022, this figure will increase as medicine evolves and becomes more sophisticated. There are more organ transplants, more complex operations, and the needs are growing accordingly.
On the other hand, blood components have a shelf life, namely red blood cell concentrates, which lose their shelf life after 35–42 days, and platelets after 5–7 days.
Platelets – 7 days, red blood cells – 42 days, plasma – 1 year.
What donated blood is used for in Portugal
Gifts or donations from donors, which is what the act of giving one's blood by donors is called, are used in a huge number of cases. Of course, we all believe in the best, but every one of us can be in this situation, so it is necessary to donate blood regularly. This is something that almost anyone in Portugal can do, as long as he/she feels healthy, is at least 18 years old and weighs at least 50 kilograms. Further down in the article, you will find a section detailing the conditions to become a blood or blood component donor.
- Emergency cases
Donated blood is used for accident victims including car accidents, severe burns, falls and other emergencies.
- Surgical interventions
Blood transfusions are often needed during major surgeries such as heart surgery (or a procedure such as coronary bypass surgery), organ transplants, and orthopedic procedures.
- Cancer treatment
Portugal has some of the largest centers that research and treat cancer. For example, the IPO (Instituto Português de Oncologia/Institute for Cancer Research) and the Botton-Champalimaud Pancreatic Cancer Center. Patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer may need blood and blood products to manage anemia or low platelet counts.
- Blood diseases
People with blood disorders such as hemophilia or siculzelemia may need regular blood transfusions to manage their conditions.
- Complications of childbirth
In the case of postpartum hemorrhage or other complications related to labor, blood transfusions may be required to save the mother's life.
- Pediatric medical care
Children with congenital disorders, cancer, or other serious illnesses may need blood transfusions as part of their treatment.
- Neonatal medical care
Premature or critically ill newborns may need blood transfusions.
- Chronic illnesses
Patients with chronic diseases such as thalassemia or aplastic anemia may need frequent blood transfusions to maintain their health. Plasma, the liquid part of the blood, can be used to treat patients with clotting disorders or liver disease.
- Bone marrow diseases
Patients with conditions such as myelodysplasia syndrome (MDS) or aplastic anemia may require a bone marrow transplant, which often includes a blood transfusion.
- Medical research
Donated blood is also used for medical research and the development of new treatments and therapies.
Each donor can save 3 lives with just one donation!
What benefits and recognition are available to blood donors in Portugal
The Portuguese law stipulates that blood donation is free of charge, however, there are several privileges and rewards that a donor can receive.
- Exemption from the subscription fee for access to National Health Service (SNS) benefits. Starts after the second blood donation within one year, and is maintained for donors who donate blood twice a year or have had more than 30 donations in their lifetime.
- Time off to donate blood without loss of rights or privileges.
- Insurance for the donor against possible health consequences of donating blood.
- Free access to parking at SNS facilities when donating blood.
Additionally, it can be said that every donor is actually given a free blood health test.
Awards: Diplomas and medals are presented to donors who have made multiple donations.
- Diploma of 10 Donations: awarded by the President of the IPST Board of Directors, IP to donors who have made 10 donations.
- Copper Medal: awarded by the Minister of Health to donors who have made 20 donations.
- Silver Medal: awarded by the Minister of Health to donors who have made 40 donations.
- Gold Medal: awarded by the Minister of Health to donors who have made 60 donations.
- 100 Donation Gold Medal: awarded by the Minister of Health to donors who have made 100 donations.
Read more about who can and cannot donate blood
As we mentioned earlier, almost any healthy person weighing at least 50 kilograms, aged 18 to 60, can become a donor if it is the first donation. You can donate blood up to the age of 65 if it is not your first donation. However, even at this age, it is possible to get permission from a blood doctor if you are willing.
All possible questions have been answered by Portuguese services on the SNS portal, on the IPO website, on the IPST website and on the Portuguese donors' website, here we will give what, we think, are the key points.
What else does a donor need:
- A valid identity document: passport or residence in Portugal. If you do not yet have a residence and SNS number, you will be able to donate blood, but you will not yet be able to obtain a donor card, which will further simplify the registration procedure.
- You must be able to complete the questionnaire yourself in English or Portuguese. This is important because after completing the questionnaire, the next step is an individual consultation, which cannot be attended by a third person (interpreter). During the consultation, your blood pressure, hemoglobin and medical history will also be measured.
It is forbidden to donate blood to those who:
- are using or have injected drugs;
- have tested positive for HIV (AIDS virus);
- had sex for money;
- have hemophilia, and those who have had hepatitis B or C, Chagas disease;
- Have had a human transplant, homologous blood transfusion after 1980, and those who have or have had cancer;
- Have lived in the UK for more than 12 months (cumulatively) between January 1980 and December 1996;
- have Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and who have already taken etretinate (psoriasis treatment).
If you have had vaccines, you need to wait:
- COVID-19 – 7 days;
- Influenza – 72 hours;
- Hepatitis A and B – 1 week;
- HPV and tetanus (you can become a donor right away).
Where to donate blood
It is probably easiest to donate blood at large fixed blood collection stations like the IPST in Lisbon (Av. do Brasil 53 - Pav. 17, 1749-005 Lisboa). The Institute also has branches in Coimbra (Rua Escola Inês de Castro, São Martinho do Bispo) and Porto (Rua do Bolama, nº 133). Or at Hospital de São José (R. José António Serrano, 1150-199 Lisboa) and Hospital de Santa Maria (Av. Prof. Egas Moniz MB, 1649-028 Lisboa). There are various stations in other cities, as well as mobile stations. The schedule for future days can be seen here under Onde dar (Where to donate).
Moreover, if you work for a large organization, there are often arrangements between the company and blood collection organizations for a mobile unit to come to employees. You can check with your HR department or your managers for this information.
How often can I donate blood and blood components?
The optimum is 3 donations for women and 4 for men within a 12-month period. However, a minimum 2-month interval is allowed as long as these figures are not exceeded in the last 12 months.
Double-dose blood can be given every six months (if minimum height, weight, and hemoglobin requirements are met). Platelets can be donated up to 24 times a year. If you alternately donate different types of blood components, the interval between donations may be different. You should therefore confirm the next recommended date with the specialists at the center where you donate blood and blood components.
IPST will also send you text notifications if your next donation is already possible.
How the donation procedure works
- You fill out a donor questionnaire before each donation (whether you have a plastic donor card or not) and give it to a staff member.
- Next, you register to donate blood. This happens either quickly through a plastic donor card or longer through your documents and entering information into the database. You will be asked for your address, telephone number, SNS number (if available), residence number (if available), and asked to show your passport or residence card.
- You are then asked to wait to be called by a staff member at the center. The meeting with a staff member is confidential and individualized (no interpreters allowed), so it is important to know English or Portuguese. We admit that outside of Lisbon and Porto, English may not be sufficient.
- You will be verbally asked the most significant questions from the questionnaire, your health will be looked at, your blood pressure and hemoglobin will be measured. And they will make a final decision about your eligibility to donate.
- If you haven't eaten for a long time before donating blood, you may be given juice and something to snack on.
- Next is the material collection itself.
- After the donation, you will be asked to rest and have a snack, again paying attention to your well-being.
The entire procedure takes between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on the busyness of the center.
Before and after donation of blood and blood components
Before you donate blood:
- On the day of surrender, you should not be hungry, breakfast should be healthy and varied.
- If you donate during lunch or in the afternoon, choose a light meal (soup/salad and a sandwich). A larger meal (with meat or fish) requires a two-hour break before donating.
- Before donating blood, drink at least half a liter of water (but, of course, not in a volley, but gradually).
- After a night's work, ensure that you have a minimum rest period of 4 hours.
- Do not stop taking your regular medications, just let your doctor know at the time of your checkup. However, if you have been taking aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen), you should wait at least 5 days to have your blood drawn.
- If alcohol is consumed at a maximum dose of 40g, the donor must wait 12 hours before donating. If drinking at a higher dose – 24 hours.
- It is also recommended that you refrain from smoking for at least 2 hours immediately before donating blood.
After donation, you should avoid excessive exercise/intensive sports and alcohol for a day. You should avoid dehydration and drink enough water (not tea and coffee).
Blood types and compatibility
A separate point on this topic has to do with the fact that Europe adopts different blood group designations than some other countries.
The following designations are adopted:
- Group 0 (zero) is blood type 1;
- Group A is the second blood type;
- Group B is the third blood type;
- AB is the fourth blood type.
The rhesus factor is indicated by "Rh+" and "Rh-".
We asked IPST staff which blood groups are most needed in Portugal. The answer was: "All blood types are needed, but apart from Rh- 0, blood types A and 0 are always the most needed, as they are the majority of blood types in the Portuguese population".
To emphasize, even if your blood type is different from the most common blood types, it doesn't mean you don't need it.
Why is group 0 Rh- mentioned in the answer? Because this blood type is universal and can be transfused to patients with any blood type. As we have learned, if there is no time to find out a person's blood type in an emergency, this universal blood type is the first blood type to be transfused.
The following is a table of blood group correspondence.
Left red column: blood types. The top half of the column is Rh positive, and the bottom half is Rh negative.
Second column: blood types that can be transfused to a patient with a blood type from the red column.
Third column: blood groups to which the blood of the donor from the red column can be transfused.
Note that while group 0 Rh- is a universal donor, group AB Rh+ is a universal recipient, meaning that people with this group can be transfused blood from any donor.
What other types of donation exist in Portugal
The easiest way to get into the potential donor database is with your next blood donation. Because in addition to signing an agreement, you will need to donate a small amount of blood, which will be sent to CADACE (Centro Nacional de Dadores de Células de Medula Óssea, Estaminais ou de Sangue do Cordão/National Bone Marrow, Stem Cell and Cord Blood Donor Center). With a donation, this procedure will simply be combined.
Cord blood collection for BPCCU (Banco Público de Células do Cordão Umbilical/ Public Cord Cell Bank) is performed in authorized hospitals or maternity hospitals with which BPCCU has established cooperation protocols, if it is technically feasible and does not pose any risk to the newborn or the mother.
According to Portuguese law, we are all considered potential donors as long as we do not express disagreement with the donation in the National Donor Registry (RENNDA).
It probably can't be said that organizations that collect blood donations publish many patient stories, such as this one. But we hope this article will remove some barriers and motivate you and your family to become donors in this beautiful country we now live in.
We would be interested to know if this article has motivated you to become a blood donor in Portugal. Tell us about your experience of donating in this country.