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World Blood Donor Day honors role of voluntary blood donors in ensuring a safe and ample blood supply Washington, D.C., June 14, 2007 (PAHO)?Child cancer survivors from the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean today thanked voluntary blood donors for helping to save their lives, during the U.S. observance of World Blood Donor Day at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Dr. Jose Ramiro Cruz-Lopez and Dr. Carissa Etienne with (from left) Zulma Barrientos, 10, of Guatemala; Deneka Brickell Rolle, 8, of Bahamas; Daniel Enrique Garc?a Herrera, 11, of Colombia; Anisa Siras, 11, of Suriname; and Balee Wahl, 12, of the United States of America. ?Blood donors are very special to me because they helped me during my battle with cancer five years ago,? said Balee Wahl, of Somerset, Pennsylvania, USA. The 12-year-old suffered from Ewings Sarcoma in her left lower leg and needed repeated blood transfusions during her treatment. ?I want to thank everyone who gives blood because you and others like you have helped save my life and others just like me.?

Wahl and the other children, ages 8 to 11, traveled to Washington from the Bahamas, Colombia, Guatemala, Suriname, and Pennsylvania, USA, to help celebrate today?s event. All five required blood transfusions during their treatment for cancer, and all are now looking forward to leading active, healthy lives. They acknowledged the key role played by regular, voluntary blood donors in ensuring that safe blood is readily available to patients who need it.

?My thanks to all the other people in the world who, by giving blood, give life,? said Daniel Enrique Garc?a, of Colombia, a survivor of Burkitt?s lymphoma. ?I am completely recovered now and enjoying my second chance at life.?

?Voluntary blood donors are the essential basis for a safe and secure blood supply,? said PAHO Assistant Director Dr. Carissa Etienne. ?Fortunately, there are millions of people around the world who are happy to give blood, and we are here today to thank them and to plead with them and others to continue to give blood and to give it repeatedly.?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, at least 5 percent of a country?s population must donate blood to ensure ample blood supplies. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the overall voluntary donation rate is 1.4 percent. The gap is largely filled by blood collected through hospital-based family-replacement programs, in which friends and family members of patients who require blood are recruited to make donations.

Voluntary, altruistic donation, however, is considered a far better alternative because voluntary donors are less likely to carry infectious blood-transmitted diseases than paid or family-replacement donors. According to PAHO data for 2002, in countries where at least 98 percent of blood donors were voluntary, only 2 per 100,000 donors gave blood that screened positive for HIV. In contrast, in countries that accept blood from paid donors, 350 donors per 100,000 had HIV-positive blood, and in countries with half or more blood donations from replacement donors, the figure was 340 per 100,000.

PAHO has been working with its member countries to increase rates of voluntary blood donation, to shift blood collection from hospital-based family-replacement programs to national altruistic blood donation programs, and to increase blood screening for infectious diseases including HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis, and Chagas? disease.

The efforts have met with some success. Between 2000 and 2003, voluntary blood donation in the region increased from 15 percent of units collected to 36 percent. During the same period, the estimated risk of HIV-contaminated transfusion fell from 0.47 per 100,000 donations to 0.08 per 100,000.

PAHO member countries have set the goal of reaching 100 percent voluntary, altruistic blood donation by the year 2010. So far, eight countries?Aruba, Canada, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Suriname, the United States, and Uruguay ? report 100 percent voluntary blood donation.

Today?s observance of World Blood Donor Day was organized by PAHO, with the participation of the American Red Cross and America?s Blood Centers (ABC). Links of Interest: Special offer from PAHO Publications The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of WHO.