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Medical students want your blood

Thursday, 7 August, 2014

You may have mixed feelings about the vampire pop culture revolution of recent years which has given us questionable literature and cinema such as the Twilight Saga, True Blood, and the Vampire Diaries. Now attempting to redeem this trend is a group of Australian medical students, who have recruited the vampire trope for the forces of good.

The Vampire Cup is an initiative of the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA), first run in 2005. Now entering its tenth year, the Vampire Cup sees medicine student societies from universities around the country—including University of Melbourne Medical Students Society (UMMSS)—fight it out in a competitive blood drive, jostling one another to register the highest number of blood donations.

The Cup is about more than just exchanging friendly fire, according to the UMMSS contingent leaders Alex Miles and Eva Deutscher. “Firstly, it’s about making people aware of the importance of donating blood. People who have had loved ones requiring blood are very appreciative of donors and are much more likely to donate themselves, but we certainly don’t want to wait until misfortune falls upon people before they consider donating,” Alex and Eva tell Farrago.

Being current medical students themselves and thus “part of the future healthcare system”, Alex and Eva believe it’s important for them to recognise and support events such as the Vampire Cup which promote positive community health. Blood donation is a particularly worthy cause, given that one in three Australians will require a transfusion at some point in their lives. Currently only one in every 30 people actually donate. This places significant stress on hospitals attempting to meet demand – with potentially lethal consequence. AMSA and UMMSS see this as reason enough to turn their education into a tangible contribution and encourage further donations.

Part of the challenge is overcoming the many barriers currently discouraging blood donation. From what they’ve seen, Alex and Eva believe apathy is one major roadblock. “For most people, donating isn’t a priority and that’s fair enough,” they explain. “I think it’s still important though to think about who can benefit from your donation. Other people feel that donating is time consuming.” One solution they’ve found particularly effective is to try donating with friends and making the experience fun—an idea that’s recreated in the Vampire Cup.

The fear of harm resulting from the donation process—a belief exacerbated by pseudoscientific reporting and fear mongering gossip—is another factor. Alex and Eva believe the Vampire Cup can play a role in helping people overcome these misconceptions. The pair also hope the rules surrounding the ineligibility of donations from sexually active gay men can soon change. They say these rules “fail to treat gay men as individuals and fail to take into account improved testing for Sexually Transmitted Diseases”. Their hope is that with increased awareness the ban might be reconsidered, which would allow for even more donations.

Alex and Eva are particularly optimistic about the role university students can play in the blood drive. “University students are generally healthy and their commitments allow time to donate blood or get involved in other community health projects.” The social media campaign for the competition has been striking, raising awareness of vital facts—that every donation can save three lives, or that “young people in particular tend not to consider their health as closely [as they should] and habits that they form during this time can have a big impact”.

Alex and Eva are confident of Melbourne University’s chances of pulling off an upset victory in this year’s Vampire Cup and defeating the three-time champions from Deakin. Last year, 98 donors contributed to UMMSS’ efforts, but they’re after more than 150 donations this time around from all faculties, particularly students enrolled in the allied health sciences such as physiotherapy, nursing, science & biomedicine. For those considering donating it’s about more than just helping others but also “putting their own health on the radar”, and taking part in a collective movement towards a healthier society.

As for their own personal favourite vampire? Alex and Eva named Sesame Street resident Count von Count—“he is the one counting all of the donations that come through!”

Find out how you can give blood by visiting this AMSA ‘How to’ Guide or filling out your name on this spreadsheet.

To find out more about the UMMSS Vampire Cup, visit the Facebook event at www.facebook.com/events/731591750230469