DENVER — Blood donations have myriad purposes all around the world, including remedying childbirth complications as well as treating blood diseases and cancer. The current global blood shortage of approximately 40 million units every year, focused primarily in developing countries, is making these conditions difficult to address.
More than half of the 108 million blood donations collected worldwide every year come from developed countries where only 18 percent of the world’s population lives, leaving 82 percent of the world with a lack of blood they may need for various medical treatments.
Blood donations only remain viable for transfusion for 35 to 42 days, meaning that without a constant stream of donors, the blood supply begins to dwindle. In India alone, 12 million units of blood are needed per year, but only 9 million are donated, coming from only one percent of eligible donors.
Anju Verma, the chief medical officer at Rotary Blood Bank in India commented on this problem, saying, “Healthy donors are between the age of 18 to 65 years. So they should come out and donate blood.” Yet, many in this age group are not donating, and thus a shortage has been established. While high-income countries donate 36.8 donations per one thousand people, 75 countries, primarily underdeveloped, donate only 10 units per 1000 people.
The problem extends further, based on not only a lack of blood, but also a lack of safe blood. Without safe blood, diseases spread like wildfire. Based on a survey done by the World Health Organization, “20 countries in the world do not have 100% screening for HIV and 24 do not have 100% screening for hepatitis B, 37 for hepatitis C and 24 for syphilis.”
Safe blood is important for pregnant woman as well. In developing countries, maternal and newborn mortality rates are staggeringly high, and 31 percent of these deaths result from blood loss. Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the WHO, explains, “If all obstetric facilities provided safe blood for transfusion, many of these mothers’ lives could be saved.”
In 2010, the World Health Assembly corroborated this statement when they found that “Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world with 510 deaths per 100 000 live births, also has the lowest blood donation rates. Simply put, blood donations save mothers and children.
According to the WHO, the safest blood donations come from volunteers who have no monetary incentive to make a donation. Sri Lanka is the epitome of this finding with 100 percent of its 380,000 units of blood coming from voluntary, unpaid donors. These donations have proven to be safe and have contributed to economic development across the country.
Zimbabwe has also taken initiative in terms of encouraging safe blood donations. Zimbabwe’s Pledge 25 encourages students to donate 25 units before their 25th birthday to increase the blood supply and begin saving lives. With initiatives like this, hopefully more developing countries will get behind the movement and begin to donate more safe blood.
In addition to all of the health implications of the global blood shortage, it also has an indirect impact on global poverty. Without necessary blood transfusions, mothers and babies die, population growth remains uncontrolled and more people contract HIV and hepatitis. These are all things that weaken economies and populations, making movement toward development all the more challenging.
With increased blood donations from eligible donors as well as programs similar to Zimbabwe’s Pledge 25, the supply of safe blood will increase and make for a healthier, safer world.