By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Food and Drug Administration lifted a ban earlier this year that prohibits blood donation from those who had traveled to China in the last three years.
As a result, Wesley Tanoto, program director of the Young Leaders Program (YLP) and incoming vice president at the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce, is motivated to increase the number of Chinese blood donors in the region.
Born in Jakarta, Tanoto is a fifth generation Chinese Indonesian. He moved to the United States almost eight years ago. In addition to his volunteering efforts, he works as a management consultant.
Blood donations and community work
Tanoto first got involved with blood donation efforts during his senior year in college about four years ago, through a partnership between Bloodworks Northwest and the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
Bloodworks Northwest chief medical officer Dr. Yanyun Wu reached out to Tanoto to create a team to launch outreach efforts to the local Chinese community.
Tanoto is now the program director for a professional development program with a focus on community involvement and business skills. It’s a highly selective program where 25 students are chosen every year to receive training and intern at various nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to help create strategies to benefit the community.
As a regular blood donor, Tanoto sees the value of blood donation. He sees it as beyond going to the blood center. For him, it’s more of the life-saving value of blood donation.
“That’s the very least that I can do to help the community. I would like to share that passion in saving lives with students at universities and college campuses. I think if we, as a group, band together to make this like a movement as a Chinese community, work together to generate more donors, and save more lives, that’s why I’m passionate about this,” he said.
How the ban influences blood donations
Up until July 2019, there was an FDA policy banning anyone who had traveled to China in the past three years, from donating blood. Exceptions were made if the city they visited was a major city with good health infrastructure, and not high-risk malaria cities, Tanoto explained.
“The FDA defines malaria-endemic areas (i.e. areas that result in malarial deferral) as “any areas with malaria where the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends anti-malarial chemoprophylaxis in travelers in the most current version of the CDC Health Information for International Travel (commonly known as The Yellow Book). In the current version of The Yellow Book, the CDC no longer recommends anti-malarial chemoprophylaxis for travelers to China,” according to the doctors of Bloodworks Northwest via John Yeager, senior media content strategist.
The lifted ban opens up a wider network of people who can donate blood.
In the past few years, YLP volunteers have focused on educating and engaging people to donate blood. They even partnered with a Chinese social media influencer to raise awareness. Tanoto said they engaged about two dozen students, but only nine were eligible to donate in 2019.
They also hosted awareness events where a phlebotomist gave a presentation on blood donation. There were also trivia games and ways for both students and their parents to get more involved.
In addition, Tanoto said they even created a mobile app that streamlined the donor screening and application process. Potential blood donors are asked questions about their travel and medical history, and the app creates a more efficient and user-friendly donor experience.
Tanoto said that they garnered a lot of interest and sign-ups from Chinese people who had never heard of blood donations. Now that the ban has been lifted, with the right effort and marketing initiatives, he hopes to increase the number of donations.
Tanoto says the group’s target is to gain 50 new Chinese blood donors.
Anyone older than 16 years old (with parental consent) is eligible to donate blood. Tanoto said that Bloodworks Northwest targets high school students to elderly folks, but due to the scope and limited resources of his project, they are focused on ages 16 to 30.
“It was a request from Bloodworks to diversify blood supply in the Pacific Northwest because people of different ethnicities have different blood composition,” Tanoto said.
Looking ahead to 2020
There’s more work to be done in recruiting blood donors.
Citing the 2017 U.S. Census data, Tanoto said 120,000 people identify as Chinese in the greater Seattle area. There are about 250 Chinese donors out of the 3,000 total donors at the University of Washington (UW).
Looking ahead to 2020, Tanoto said that they will continue to focus on similar marketing efforts, specifically around blood donor recruitment.
While the UW offers the largest amount of reach, Tanoto said they will also reach out to other college campuses in the area like Seattle University and Bellevue College.
“We’re going to address and focus our efforts on recruitment more than anything else. Our hope is to recruit more and more donors from the Chinese population, and we hope that what we’re doing next year will help other ethnic communities to replicate the model to impact the greater Seattle area,” he said.
Donors can schedule an appointment at any donor center by going online at schedule.bloodworksnw.org or by calling 1-800-398-7888.
Nina can be reached at email@example.com.