With nearly 800 women dying every day from causes related to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, the United Nations health agency is marking World Blood Donor Day by calling on countries to improve access to safe blood supplies and blood transfusions to save the lives of those mothers in need.
World Blood Donor Day provides a yearly opportunity to highlight the lifesaving role of voluntary unpaid blood donors and also to thank those donors who give this precious gift to save millions of lives every year. This year's theme, 'Safe Blood for Saving Mothers,' aims to increase awareness on how timely access to safe blood and blood products is essential for all countries as part of a comprehensive approach to prevent maternal deaths.
“When a new mother dies, not only does her baby face greater risk of death, malnourishment and lifelong disadvantage, but the whole family's wellbeing is affected,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) in her remarks on the Day.
According to WHO, severe bleeding during pregnancy, delivery or after childbirth is the single biggest cause of maternal death and can kill a healthy woman within 2 hours if she is unattended. Urgent access to safe supplies of blood for transfusion is critical to saving these women's lives.
“If all obstetric facilities provided safe blood for transfusion, many of these mothers' lives could be saved,” adds Ms. Chan.
The global event for this year's day will be held in the city of Colombo in Sri Lanka, which has successfully reached a self-sufficient blood supply within the last decade, a great role model for those countries unable to provide clean blood and still highly depended on foreign supplies.
Donated blood is collected every year from around 108 million units around the world. However, nearly half of these donations are only from high-income countries.
A resolution adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2010 stressed the importance of campaigning for a secure supply of safe blood based on local voluntary blood donation, where safest source of blood is believed to be from regular, voluntary unpaid donors whose blood is screened for infections.
WHO has recently called all countries to receive their entire blood supply from voluntary unpaid donors by 2020 and it has encouraged them, and their national and international partners, to work on blood transfusion and maternal health to develop an activity plan to highlight the need for timely access to safe blood.
The campaign also promotes the screening for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis of all donated blood prior to transfusion. What has emerged, however, is that in many countries, testing is often not reliable because of irregular supply of test kits, staff shortages, poor quality test kits, or lack of basic quality in laboratories.
Moreover, WHO says that some 25 countries are not able to screen all donated blood for one or more of these infections, showing how the need for timely access to safe blood and blood products in the prevention of maternal deaths is a major priority.
In countries like the Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world and the lowest blood donation rate, the blood collected is likely to cover only less then half demand.
According to Dr. Edward Kelly, Director of Service Delivery and Safety at WHO, today access to safe blood remains indeed a major issue to be overcome. He suggested that “safe blood transfusion is one of the key life-saving interventions that should be available in all facilities that provide emergency obstetric care.”