On World Day, UN health agency calls for rapid increase in voluntary blood donations

14 June 2016

On World Blood Donor Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for a rapid increase in voluntary blood donations in more than half of the countries globally in order to ensure a reliable supply of safe blood for patients whose lives depend on it.

“Although we have many external differences, the same vital blood pumps through all our veins,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “Voluntary, unpaid blood donation is the act of giving life – the greatest gift any person can give or receive.”

The theme of this year's Day – which is marked annually on 14 June – is “Blood connects us all,” highlighting the common bond that all people share in their blood. The slogan “Share life, give blood” draws attention to the role that voluntary donation systems play in encouraging people to care for one another and promoting community cohesion.

WHO highlighted that of the approximately 108 million blood donations made globally every year, nearly 50 per cent are collected in high-income countries, home to less than 20 per cent of the world's population. The average blood donation rate is more than nine times greater in high-income countries than in low-income countries.

However, in many countries, demand exceeds supply, and blood services face the challenge of making sufficient blood available, while also ensuring its quality and safety. An adequate supply can only be assured through regular donations by voluntary, unpaid blood donors, WHO said.

Regular voluntary unpaid blood donors are the foundation of a safe blood supply because they are associated with low levels of infection that can be transmitted by transfusions, including HIV and hepatitis viruses, the agency said.

WHO: Blood connects us all - the hero on the street

Around the world, 25 countries are unable to screen all donated blood for one or more of these infections due to irregular supply of test kits, staff shortages, poor quality test kits, or lack of basic quality in laboratories.

WHO encouraged all countries to establish blood services based on full voluntary non-remunerated blood donations. Today, only 62 countries get close to 100 per cent of their national blood supplies from voluntary unpaid blood donations, while 34 countries are still dependent on family donors and even paid donors for more than 75 per cent of their blood supply.

Blood can be used whole, or separated into its component parts, such as red blood cells, platelets, plasma and other “substances” that can be used to treat a wide range of diseases. A single unit of blood can be used to benefit several patients.

Transfusions of blood and blood products helps save millions of lives every year, including during emergencies such as conflicts, natural disasters and childbirth. It can help patients suffering from life-threatening conditions live longer and with higher quality of life, and supports complex medical and surgical procedures.

“Voluntary blood donors come from all walks of life but they have one thing in common: they put others before themselves – people they don't even know,” said Dr. Ed Kelley, Director of the Department of Service Delivery and Safety at WHO. “Each time they donate blood, they commit an act of selfless heroism.”

World Blood Donor Day has been celebrated annually since 2004, with the aim of improving the safety and adequacy of national blood supplies by promoting a substantial increase in the number of safe, voluntary, unpaid donors who give blood regularly.

This year, the host country for World Blood Donor Day is the Netherlands, through Sanquin, the national blood supply organization. A global event will take place on 14 June in Amsterdam.


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