GUANGZHOU -- Several employees of the municipal blood center in Guangzhou have been caught scheming with illegal blood dealers to sell platelets to seriously sick people in need of transfusions, local news sources said.
The Guangdong provincial health department and the local police department have formed a team to investigate the case, but the ringleader of the group remains at large, Liao Xinbo, the health department's vice-director, said yesterday.
The Guangzhou-based New Express Daily reported that a security guard working at the blood center was involved in illegal blood sales and maintained ties with underground dealers.
Platelets are cells in the blood that help with clotting. When one donates platelets, doctors withdraw a donor's blood, filter out the platelets and pump the blood back into the body.
Some cancer treatments result in a loss of platelets.
Yu Li, a 21-year-old woman, had been waiting for a platelet transfusion for a week, but the blood bank was facing a shortage. None of Yu's relatives or friends was available to donate, and the situation was getting critical.
That was when Jiang Xuerong, the security guard, contacted Yu's mother and claimed he could find someone to "donate" blood, for a fee of 1,000 yuan ($140).
That "someone" was a man named Lin Jian, the boss of an illegal blood selling gang.
Jiang said Lin had a team of about 20 blood donors with different blood types he could call on. He said the cost was 1,000 yuan for one unit of platelets, which requires a donation of 260 ml of blood.
Yu's situation is a common one due to a general shortage of platelets, and people such as Lin have been able to profit from the situation.
Officials at the blood center and the provincial health department were shocked when news of the ring broke.
Jiang has since been fired and is being investigated by the police. They are also looking into the blood center's operations to see whether other people there were also involved in the case.
Guangzhou has allowed people to donate blood since 1998.
As of last year, more than 300,000 people in the city had donated blood at least once, boosting the center's blood bank stock to almost 59 tons, which is enough to meet demand.
"But we still don't have enough platelets," Fu Yongshui, director of the Guangzhou blood center, said yesterday.
Most people are willing to donate blood, but do not know about platelets, he said.
Blood can be stored for two weeks, but platelets last less than five days, he said.
Over the next two years, the center will set up at least 14 platelet donation clinics, Fu said, which he hopes will increase people's awareness of the need to make donations.