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Blood Donations: Addressing the Rift in Global Blood Availability

About 120 million units of blood are donated every year. Unfortunately, this is still not enough to cover global demand, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). Since donated blood has an expiration date, there is a need for a constantly flowing stream of donations at blood banks.

World Blood Donor Day is on June 14, and observing this day aims to raise awareness about the importance of blood donations worldwide. It also recognizes and thanks all voluntary, unpaid blood donors for their contribution to public health. This issue relates directly to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, which prioritizes good health and well-being.

Blood transfusions are essential to various medical procedures and can prove the difference between life and death in medical emergencies like pregnancy and childbirth complications, trauma after an accident, recovery after surgery, and diseases like anaemia, sickle cell disease, HIV, Hepatitis B and C and many more.

Unfortunately, major disparity gaps exist when it comes to who receives blood donations most reliably. WHO research shows that high-income countries see up to seven times more donations than low-income countries, despite having smaller populations.

About 42 per cent of annual global donations go to high-income countries, where only 16 per cent of the world’s population resides. Blood donations are also distributed differently depending on how developed the country is. WHO research shows that more than half (54 per cent) of blood donations in low-income countries go to children under the age of five who suffer from severe anaemia, often due to malaria or malnutrition.

SDG target 3.2 aims to “…end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age…” This requires increased access to reliable and safe blood transfusions in low-income countries.

The WHO also recommends the development of hospital transfusion committees worldwide to monitor and improve the safety of blood transfusion processes. Transfusion committees are currently present in about 48 per cent of hospitals performing transfusions.

In addition to this recommendation, the WHO established an Action Framework for 2020–2023, which aims to create an effective global mandate for blood products and their usage, including “…well-coordinated and sustainably resourced national blood systems” that ensure the quality and safety of blood products and services.

About three-quarters (76 per cent) of blood donations in high-income countries go to the elderly—those who exceed 60 years of age. Blood products are also used more frequently for advanced medical procedures in high-income countries, such as for procedures to treat cancer.

There are three types of blood donors—unpaid volunteers, families and friends of those in need, and paid donors.

According to the WHO, unpaid volunteers have the fewest recorded rates of blood-borne infections, though they account for less than half of most blood donations. Most donations come from paid donors or from families and friends, which are often given out of necessity and, therefore, do not always offer the best quality of blood available for the patient.

The positive news is that a notable increase was recorded in global unpaid volunteer blood donations, pointing to more widespread awareness. An extra 10.7 million blood donations were received at blood centres in 119 countries worldwide during 2008–2018.

Furthermore, there are now 79 countries that collect over 90 per cent of their blood donations from unpaid volunteer donors. However, not all are as fortunate—54 other countries recorded over half of their blood donations coming from paid or family sources, pointing to the visible disparity in terms of who receives sufficient donations regularly.

Of the 60 countries that reported fewer than 10 donations per 1,000 people, 34 were in the WHO African Region, four in the WHO Region of the Americas, four in the Eastern Mediterranean, five in Southeast Asia and nine in the Western Pacific.

Still more needs to be done to ensure a safe and reliable supply of blood products worldwide. In Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic created sizeable setbacks when it came to Canadians receiving blood donations—donations across the country plummeted by significant amounts, with reports of a 31,000-unit decrease.

According to the Canadian Blood Services, only four per cent of Canadians donate blood, despite half of all Canadians reporting that they or someone they know has needed blood at some point in their life.

That is why, this World Blood Donor Day, we aim to raise awareness about the importance of donating blood if one is eligible. Click on the following links to learn more.

Donating blood saves lives. Literally. Think about it.

Edited by Ali Shahrukh Pracha


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