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12 Jul 2019


Australia needs more blood donors; one in three Australians will need blood during their lifetime, but only one in 30 donate.

At the close of May, the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) wrapped up its annual national blood donation drive: Vampire Cup. Vampire Cup pits 22 medical schools around Australia (with representation from New Zealand as well) against each other to see which university can roll up its sleeves and donate the most blood. It is run in the lead up to winter, and particularly flu season, in order to boost blood stocks in this critical period.

Vampire Cup was first incepted in 2008, where it garnered 400 donations Australia-wide. This year, we had our largest number of donations ever, with a total of 3,461 blood donations – more than 10,000 lives saved.

This initiative is a prime example of how passionate young students can tangibly make change at a grassroots level, utilising inter-university rivalry for a good cause. These individual-led, but large-scale movements, rely on sheer numbers of people like you and me in order to enact widespread action.

Rallies, marathons, charity drives, boycotts: these all require individual acts of change with varying degrees of entry to get involved. If a grassroots movement has too many barriers in getting involved, then it will never engage a critical mass of participants. Vampire Cup, and blood donation in general, has its own barriers to participation. Some hurdles can be overcome; local Vampire Cup representatives organised group bookings around students’ lecture times and placement hours, taking away the uncertainty of individually booking appointments. Some hurdles cannot be overcome. Personally, I have never been able to donate blood due to health reasons, along with many other iron-deficient individuals, people underneath the weight threshold, and men who have had sex with men within the preceding 12 months.

If an individual cannot personally contribute, what can they do? Widen your scope for involvement. Vampire Cup counted donations made by friends and family of medical students towards their cohort’s numbers, encouraging those like me to recruit those who otherwise would not have engaged with the initiative at all. James Cook University rallied record numbers of Townsville residents, collaborating with a local celebrity to advertise on radio with a Game of Thrones-inspired call to action. They ended up completely booking out their local blood donation centre for the remainder of the competition.

Conversely, a low bar of entry to a social movement can sometimes be seen as tokenistic. We have all seen a trending hashtag or a changed Facebook profile photo and rolled our eyes, asking ourselves how that will at all contribute positively to whatever issue they are highlighting. Particularly topical is the recent movement against single-use consumables. While it is easy to scoff at your colleague who pulls out their folding metal straw, it impossible not to notice the consecutive moves of using keep cups, banning plastic bags and avoiding plastic straws, along with positive changes from large industry players.

This is what fundamentally underlies a successful grassroots initiative: identifying your problem, then stepping up your game as you identify a new facet to the problem. “Raising awareness” should only ever be your first step and action, while incremental, must be targeted. Vampire Cup started from the idea that medical students could contribute directly to public health before even graduating. Now, it is AMSA’s most recognised initiative and has expanded to contribute to organ donation and bone marrow donation.

Congratulations to Australian National University who holds a four-year streak of having the largest percentage of their cohort donating, and James Cook University who had the largest number of donations from any cohort this year, and in Vampire Cup history. Congratulations also to Corinne Antonoff, the AMSA Vampire Cup National coordinator.

Published: 12 Jul 2019