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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blood Bank Needs Shot in the Arm

Twice a month, Natalya Lgova heads to the blood bank, offers up her arm and lets the blood flow. "It pays," she says.

The steady stream of dark blood that runs from her vein through a thin plastic tube into a machine that separates blood cells from plasma will bring her 250,000 rubles ($42).

Blood is in short supply in Moscow, and doctors at the Moscow Blood Bank, a city-subsidized center with two offices and six mobile units, hope to attract more donors like Lgova with monetary compensation and other benefits. With a daily average of 500 donors, the bank collects only about half of the 200 liters needed each day at the 150 city hospitals it serves. Most of the blood supplies emergency transfusions. The bank borrows blood from other collection centers to meet the hospitals' needs.

"In Soviet times, party pressure made people give blood. If you didn't give blood and the party was notified of that, it didn't look good," says Valentin Russanov, head of the plasma production department of the Moscow Blood Bank. "The incentive in the West seems to be just morality. Here, it has been fear, and now it is money."

The number of donors decreases during the summer holiday season and increases before Christmas "when everyone needs money to buy gifts," Russanov says.

People can earn 120,000 rubles for a routine 400-gram donation, and twice that much for plasma donations, in which blood cells are separated from the plasma and returned to the body. After 40 donations, individuals receive official donor cards that entitle them to free city transportation and a 50 percent discount on utilities. Russanov supplements his 1.5-million-ruble monthly salary with donations and enjoys the perks of a cardholder.

Yury Sukhanov, chief doctor of the bank, hopes to introduce legislation that would give tax breaks to businesses that cooperate in blood drives and impose fines on those that don't.

"The private firms don't want to give up a workday and let us collect blood," Sukhanov says.

In addition to blood collection, quality control is a growing concern. About 30 percent of the blood the bank collects is contaminated with Hepatitis A or B, HIV or syphilis. The number of syphilis cases has been increasing by 10 percent annually. There was at least one case last year in which a patient was infected with HIV through a transfusion.

"Most people just don't know they are sick, or if they do, they don't understand that they can't give blood," says Irina Odinets, a doctor at the blood bank.

Five years ago, only 3 percent of the blood in the bank was infected with a disease or virus.

As money becomes a growing incentive to give blood, there is an increasing fear that donors will lie about their health.

"If we take away the money incentive, at least we know the donors will be more honest," Sukhanov says. "But I think paying people is only fair in these hard times. After all, blood is the most valuable thing a person has."

Last June, the government passed a law allowing only blood screened by the Moscow Blood Bank to be on the market. Western clinics remain skeptical, however.

"I try to avoid using Russian blood and blood products with my patients, mainly because I'm not as confident that their testing procedures are as thorough as in the West," says Eric Downing, chief medical officer at the International Medical Center.

A few Muscovites still give blood for altruistic reasons. "I make enough money," says mechanic Viktor Akimov, 50, a regular donor. "This is an easy thing to do, and so why not? Maybe this means that in the future, when I need something, someone will help me out."