You might already be familiar with blood donation appeals or already be a blood donor yourself.
However, blood donation is one area of medicine where it remains vital that momentum is maintained so that everyone can receive the treatment they need and a blood transfusion if they need one. While blood transfusions are often characterised as occurring exclusively in emergencies, there are many scenarios where someone may benefit from receiving blood.
Let's explore these scenarios, some of the statistics around blood donation, and the importance of the upcoming World Blood Donor Day.
Who might receive blood?
In addition to emergencies, various patients may receive blood transfusions as part of their treatment.
- Cancer patients often receive blood transfusions to increase the volume of platelets in the body after chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments. This helps boost blood cell production, which can reduce the risk of patients developing other chronic diseases even if they beat cancer.
- Leukaemia and kidney disease patients may receive blood transfusions if their medical team deems them to be at risk of developing anaemia due to their condition.
- Anaemia patients typically receive blood transfusions to increase the concentration of iron in their bloodstream, which can profoundly impact energy levels.
- Anyone undergoing an operation may receive blood during or after their procedure to replace any blood loss and help aid recovery.
Who donates blood?
It might surprise you to discover that, in some countries, people get paid to donate blood.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls on all countries “to develop national blood systems based on voluntary unpaid donations and to work towards the goal of self-sufficiency." While receiving voluntary blood donations saves money, the WHO also says that blood from volunteers is typically safer and sees a lower prevalence of bloodborne infections.
Thankfully, voluntary blood donation is trending upwards worldwide. However, 54 countries still get more than 50% of their blood supply from either direct family/replacement blood sources or by paying for donations.
In contrast, 64 countries get 100% of their blood from voluntary donations.
Key blood donation trends
While blood donation trends vary significantly by location, the WHO says that 33% of donations come from women globally. But in 15 countries, this figure is less than 10%.
The age of blood donors also varies significantly across different locations. For example, the WHO reports that younger people are more likely to be blood donors in low- and middle-income countries. In contrast, older people are more likely to donate in high-income nations.
What is the current state of blood donation worldwide?
The above statistics paint an interesting picture of global blood donation. In high-income countries, where healthcare systems and facilities may be more advanced, it is perhaps the case that younger generations lack the knowledge of the impact donating blood can have. Alternatively, it may be that younger generations haven't lived through a time or event that has seen significant calls for blood donations to increase.
For example, the United Kingdom National Health Service’s Give Blood website explicitly says the country needs more young people giving blood to maintain current supply levels. According to the site, 400 new donors – or 135,000 a year – must sign up to give blood to meet demand and replace those who can no longer donate.
There are also campaigns in many countries that aim to diversify blood donation sources.
For example, remaining in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service says it needs:
- 40,000 more black donors to enable it to meet the growing demand for better-matched blood
- 30,000 more donors with “priority blood types,” like O negative, per year
In the United States, the American Red Cross, which collects around 40% of the country's blood donations, wants to increase supplies of CMV-negative blood. CMV is a flu-like virus, and estimates say that 85% of adults in the United States will be exposed to it before their 40th birthday. As such, most American adults have CMV antibodies in their blood. However, CMV-positive blood can be dangerous for patients in certain situations, which is why it is pushing for people to discover if their blood is CMV-negative and to subsequently donate if so.
In addition, the American Red Cross also offers various types of blood donation to help ensure patients can get what they need when they need it.
What is World Blood Donor Day?
World Blood Donor Day, which is on June 14th every year, is a WHO event aimed at raising global awareness of the need for blood donations. The WHO also aims to recognise blood donors while also offering support to governments and national organisations responsible for collecting blood donations and providing the necessary infrastructure within healthcare systems for blood to go where it is most needed.
The WHO’s theme for World Blood Donor Day 2022 is “Donating blood is an act of solidarity. Join the effort and save lives.” Key to this year’s campaign is the focus on increasing the proportion of voluntary donations in those countries still heavily reliant on paid donations. As such, the WHO wants the global healthcare community to promote the values of unpaid blood donation while also providing governments with a call to action to invest accordingly to build and maintain a sustainable voluntary blood system.
This year’s World Blood Donor Day events are taking place in Mexico City, Mexico. You can view and download the WHO’s poster for this year’s World Blood Donor Day here.