More Blood Donors Needed Worldwide, WHO Says

The need for blood is being driven by increasingly sophisticated medical and surgical procedures such as cardiovascular and transplant surgery, trauma care, and therapy for cancer and blood disorders.

Every year, millions of people rely on the generosity of another person to donate blood. Yet blood donation rates vary considerably and the demands for blood and blood products are increasing worldwide. To meet these needs, more people must volunteer to give blood, says the World Health Organization.

“With increasing life expectancy and the subsequent increase in the number of age-related chronic diseases, including cancers, that require blood and blood products for treatment, demand outstrips supply,” said Neelam Dhingra, coordinator for blood transfusion safety at WHO. “In addition, some blood products used to treat cancer patients, like platelets, have a shelf life of only five days. This means we increasingly need more blood donors to meet these demands.”

In high- and middle-income countries, with advancements in health care systems and improved health coverage, this need is being driven by increasingly sophisticated medical and surgical procedures such as cardiovascular and transplant surgery, trauma care, and therapy for cancer and blood disorders. All major surgeries need blood to be available on standby.

In addition, severe bleeding during delivery or after childbirth is the leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide. When severe bleeding occurs, urgent and timely treatment is required for management of these patients, including transfusion of blood and blood products.

Every year, road traffic accidents cause 1.3 million deaths globally and injure or disable between 20 million and 50 million people. Ninety percent of deaths from road traffic accidents occur in developing countries, and uncontrolled bleeding accounts for more than 468,000 deaths per year.

In low-income countries where diagnostic facilities and treatment options are limited, the majority of transfusions are prescribed for the treatment of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, the management of severe childhood anemia, trauma, and congenital blood disorders. In many situations, current systems are unable to meet the needs, while expansion of health coverage and improved access to health services further increases these demands.

There are 92 million blood donations per year globally, most made by volunteer donors. Of these voluntary donors, 30 million give blood once, and then do not return, according to WHO.

“We need to encourage these donors to come back and become repeat, regular donors,” Dhingra said. “Each blood donation is only 450 milliliters, and by having more repeat voluntary donors, we can better assure the reliability of blood supply and safety of blood and blood products.”

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