Patients suffering from blood-related diseases are at risk this Tet (lunar new year) due to a national blood shortage.

"The National Institute of Haematology and Blood Transfusion (NIHBT) collected around 8,000 units of blood during December, compared with the monthly average of 10,000 to 12,000 units," said Ngo Manh Quan, head of the Department for Blood Donation Mobilisation and Collection under the NIHBT.

"We forecast the situation will become more serious in January, when donations drop dramatically in the ten days before Tet," said Quan.

The NIHBT said that around 4,000 units were being kept in reserve for the Tet period, but this was only one-third of the predicted amount needed. The NIHBT provides blood to 65 hospitals in 18 provinces and cities in the north.

The blood shortage normally occurs during the Tet period and summer vacations when blood donors, mostly students, are busy with mid-term examinations or have returned to their home villages.

Nguyen Thi Thu, mother of a leukaemia patient who receives treatment at the National Paediatrics Hospital , said that the amount of blood available for her child's transfusions had been cut by nearly half in recent weeks.

"The doctor informed me that there is a shortage of blood and priorities are only being given to emergency cases," said Thu.

Without regular transfusions, the young patient's health would suffer which would mean he may have to stay in hospital for a longer, more expensive period of treatment, according to Head of the National Paediatrics Hospital 's Haematology Department Do Minh Cam.

"As patients, we are suffering from the blood shortage, which is not only harming our health, but also endangering our lives", said an anonymous student being treated for kidney failure at the NIHBT.

"Many patients will have to stay in hospitals for treatment during Tet due to the blood shortage," said the student.

Cam said that many patients who suffered from blood diseases like leukaemia and bone marrow failure needed regular blood transfusions. Priorities were usually given to patients with acute conditions or emergency cases.

"In some cases, we have to ask medical staff or patients' families to donate blood to save lives," added Cam .

"Blood reserves are precious and hard to come by at the best of times. The need for blood is extremely high while the amount collected is only likely to satisfy around 30 percent of the demand," said Director of the NIHBT Nguyen Anh Tri.

"Besides asking companies, enterprises and universities to get involved in blood drives, we are also contacting people, especially those who used to donate blood, to donate during this time," said Tri.

The NIHBT will collaborate with the Youth Union to carry out blood donation campaigns during January and February, and the NIHBT and Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper will organise a blood donation day this week in Hanoi , with the aim of collecting 1,000 units.

The country's largest annual blood drive, the Pink Spring Festival, will also be held by the NIHBT on February 19 in an effort to collect 5,000 units in order to replenish stocks after the Tet period.

Other campaigns will also be carried out during January in northern provinces such as Hai Duong , Nam Dinh and Lang Son, to support the struggling health sector.

According to the World Health Organisation, Vietnam needed around 2 million units of blood for emergencies and treatment every year. In fact, approximately 700,000 units are provided to hospitals of which 59 percent come from voluntary blood donations to meet only 30 percent of the health sector's needs.

The health sector estimated that Vietnam would need at least 860,000 units for emergencies and treatment in 2011 ./.