Voluntary non-remunerated blood donation is critical for high-quality blood service delivery.

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Blood donation

About 108 million blood donations are collected worldwide each year. Almost half of these are collected in high-income countries, home to 15 per cent of the world’s population. Although there has been an increase of almost 8 million blood donations from voluntary unpaid donors from 2004 to 2011, equitable access to safe blood still does not exist for many of those who need it.

There are chronic shortages of safe blood and blood products in many countries, so blood transfusion is not available for many of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

A system of regular and voluntary non-remunerated blood donation (VNRBD) is critical for high-quality blood service delivery. Promoting equity, access, quality and safety of blood and blood components is indispensable to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Our approach

The IFRC is uniquely placed to improve the safety and accessibility of blood supply. We have the largest humanitarian network of volunteers in the world and, therefore, considerable experience in keeping, motivating and supporting our volunteers. This knowledge is equally relevant for the retention of blood donors: we support global health security by promoting VNRBD and advocating for the safe provision of blood products and services.

At the global level

The IFRC has always been at the forefront of promoting VNRBD, at both advocacy and capacity-building levels. The long experience of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in supplying blood and blood products meant that our voice was heard when we advocated for recognition of VNRBD on the global health agenda. In 1975, the World Health Assembly urged its member states to promote national voluntary and non-remunerated blood services. Another key milestone in our advocacy work, and that of three other founding partners, was the establishment in 2004 of World Blood Donor Day, a day that continues to be an occasion for reiterating the importance of VNRBD worldwide. In 2001, the IFRC established the Global Advisory Panel on Corporate Governance and Risk Management for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. This panel of experts is now available for countries requesting technical expertise in all aspects of risk management, as spelled out in the IFRC’s Blood Policy, which was adopted in 2011. In addition, the Global Framework for Action: Towards 100 per cent Voluntary Blood Donation, jointly developed with the World Health Organization, provides guidance and support to countries seeking to establish effective VNRBD programmes.

At the national and community levels

In many countries, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as auxiliaries to their governments, play an important role in promoting safe and sustainable blood programmes. National Society engagement in blood programmes in some cases means responsibility for blood collection and supply. About one-quarter of National Societies are responsible for blood service delivery in their national blood programmes, while around 63 per cent are engaged in systematic blood donor recruitment activities or advocacy for and promotion of VNRBD. Club 25 is one of many successful initiatives that National Societies support. Through this initiative, young donors provide blood to save lives and encourage other young people to do the same (see case study).

Impact

According to 2011 WHO data, 60 countries, including some with limited resources, have a blood supply based entirely on voluntary and nonremunerated blood donations. These donations have an impact on almost every aspect of modern medicine. With more than 34 million donations of blood given annually worldwide, the reach of Red Cross Red Crescent blood donors cannot be quantified. However, it is happening every minute of each day, 365 days a year, saving lives day in, day out with the gift of blood. The viability of a country’s blood service, however, rests with its government and its commitment to safer blood starts with enforcing a national blood policy based on the principle of 100 per cent voluntary blood donation.

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108 million donations

31 per cent (34 million donations) come from Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers.

Where does it go?

  • Cancer and blood diseases 34%
  • Other causes of anaemia 19%
  • Surgical patients including open heart surgery and burns 18%
  • Other medical problems including heart, stomach and kidney disease 13%
  • Orthopaedic patients including fractures and joint replacements 10%
  • Obstetrics, including pregnant women, new mothers and young children 4%
  • Trauma including road accidents 2%

While the percentages will vary from country to country this data (from Australia’s Red Cross Blood Service) illustrates how blood is used to save life. In Africa, approximately 65 per cent of all blood transfusions are given to children with severe anaemia due to malaria, the leading cause of death among children under the age of 5.