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Korea’s falling birth rate blamed for drop in blood donors

Total fertility rate in South Korea declined to a record low of 0.7 in 2022
Members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, donate blood at a gymnasium in Daegu, South Korea on Aug 28, 2020. The Red Cross has reported a drop in blood donors in the country due to the low birth rate and a rise in the elderly population.

Members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, donate blood at a gymnasium in Daegu, South Korea on Aug 28, 2020. The Red Cross has reported a drop in blood donors in the country due to the low birth rate and a rise in the elderly population. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 27, 2024 09:39 AM GMT
Updated: February 27, 2024 10:11 AM GMT

Health professionals and a charity group in South Korea have blamed a gradual decline in young blood donors largely on the country's falling birth rate and rapidly aging population.

Blood donations dropped from 2.7 million in 2017 to 2.4 million in 2022, a decline of 9.94 percent, according to the Korean Red Cross.

Lee Jae-hyun, head of the Korean Red Cross' Supply and Demand Management Team lamented the decline in the number of youths donating blood, the Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation of Korea (CPBC) reported on Feb. 24.

"The number of students coming to donate has decreased a lot. In particular, the number of high school students has decreased significantly,” Lee said. He said that the overall decline in blood donations was worrisome.

"In the past, I used to collect a lot of blood from military camps, high schools, and schools. The number of students is decreasing, the number of military units is decreasing, and it is difficult,” Lee said.

The number of blood donors in the 16 to 19 age group fell from 848,698 in 2017 to 433,991 in 2022, a decline of 48.9 percent, according to Red Cross data.

Similarly, the number of donors in the 20 to 29 age group dropped from 1,082,833 in 2017 to 902,386 in 2022, a decline of 16.7 percent.

The decline is particularly alarming as youths between 16 and 29  who provided close to 1.9 million (71 percent) blood donations in 2017 declined to 1.3 million (55 percent) in 2022.

Inversely, the number of blood donors in the 30 to 60 age group and above increased from 0.7 million (29 percent) in 2017 to 1.1 million (45 percent) in 2022.

"More than 50 percent of the visitors are people in their thirties and forties. A lot of office workers donate blood," said Kim So-hyun, a nurse at the Dongbu Blood Collection Center.

The decline in birth rates and the rapidly aging population are cited as major reasons behind the fall in blood donation in the country.

South Korea recorded 249,186 live births in 2022 compared to 260,562 in 2021, according to the state-run Statistics Korea.

The agency also reported that the fertility rate also dropped to a record low of 0.7 in 2022.

About 18.4 percent of South Korea’s estimated 51.5 million population are aged 65 and above, the agency reported.

Lee said that the drop in blood donor numbers was in part due to universities not considering individual blood donations as a recognized activity for entry requirements, CPBC reported.

“Recently, the university entrance part is not recognized as a volunteer activity, so student participation has decreased a lot,” Lee said.

Beginning this year, Korean universities have started accepting only group blood donations as volunteer activities and have excluded individual blood donations. Some observers also cite this as a reason behind the drop in youth blood donations.

The local governments provide various rewards for blood donations, such as public facility fee reductions, flu vaccinations, and local gift certificates, CPBC reported.

Lee called for the promotion of a blood donation culture that would show people’s love for their neighbors and the sharing of life.

“If [they] have the opportunity to take care of [their] neighbors and [themselves] more through blood donations, it will be even more educational,” Lee said.  

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