The just marked World Blood Donor Day on June 14, again, raised pertinent issues relating to the relevance of blood donation in the healthcare delivery system. The event, established in 2004, serves to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products, and to thank blood donors for their voluntary, life-saving gifts. The importance of this service becomes evident when an emergency case arises and that is the more reason why the world must not wait until such a time because it may be very late. The day is also one of the special days set aside by the United Nations to draw attention to an issue of international importance.
In some countries especially in Africa, there is an inadequate supply of safe blood. Even more challenging to blood services is making sufficient blood available while also ensuring its quality and safety. Health authorities posit that an adequate supply can only be assured through regular donations by voluntary unpaid blood donors. It is in this regard that the World Health Organisation (WHO) set a goal for all countries to obtain all their blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors by 2020. In 2014, 60 countries were reported to have their national blood supplies based on 99-100 per cent voluntary unpaid blood donations, with 73 countries still largely dependent on family and paid donors.
There is no gainsaying it that blood is an important resource, both for planned treatments and urgent interventions. It can help patients suffering from life-threatening conditions live longer and with a higher quality of life, and supports complex medical and surgical procedures. Blood is also vital for treating the wounded during emergencies of all kinds and has an essential, life-saving role in maternal and pre-natal care.
A blood service that gives patients access to safe blood and blood products in sufficient quantity is a key component of an effective health system. Ensuring safe and sufficient blood supplies requires the development of a nationally coordinated blood transfusion service based on voluntary non-remunerated blood donations. However, in many countries, blood services face the challenge of making sufficient blood available, while also ensuring its quality and safety.
The theme for this year’s campaign is: What can you do? Give blood. Give now. Give often and is directed at encouraging all people to strengthen the emergency preparedness of health services in their community by donating blood; engaging authorities in the establishment of effective national blood donor programmes with the capacity to respond promptly to the increase in blood demand during emergencies; promoting the inclusion of blood transfusion services in national emergency preparedness and response activities; building wider public awareness of the need for committed, year-round blood donation, in order to maintain adequate supplies and achieve a national self-sufficiency of blood; celebrating and thanking individuals who donate blood regularly and encouraging young people to become new donors as well. Finally, it seeks to promote international collaboration to ensure worldwide dissemination of and consensus on the principles of voluntary non-remunerated donation, while increasing blood safety and availability.
It is pertinent to note that the lives and health of millions of people are affected by emergencies every year. In the last decade, it is believed that disasters have caused more than one million deaths, with more than 250 million people being affected by emergencies every year some most of them man made.
To this extent, therefore, blood transfusion becomes an essential component of emergency health care. Adequate supply of blood during emergencies requires a well-organised blood service, and this can only be ensured by engaging the entire community and a blood donor population committed to voluntary unpaid blood donation throughout the year.
This year’s campaign, as can be observed, focuses on blood donation in emergencies. In crisis or emergency situation, the natural human response is: what can I do? How can I help? The campaign underlines the role every single person can play in helping others in emergency situations, by giving the valuable gift of blood. It also focuses on the fact that it is important to give blood regularly, so that the blood stock is sufficient before an emergency arises.
It is on record that about 112.5 million units of donated blood are collected globally every year. Interestingly, nearly 47 per cent of these blood donations are collected in high-income countries, home to less than 19 per cent of the world’s population. WHO admonishes every country on the need to ensure that supplies of blood and blood products are sufficient and free from HIV, hepatitis viruses and other infections.