Washington , D.C., 14 June 2011 (PAHO/WHO)-Nicaragua has accomplished what only one other Latin American country-Cuba-has achieved: a blood supply based 100 percent on voluntary, altruistic blood donors. Today, on World Blood Donor Day 2011, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) cited Nicaragua as a model to follow.
"We know from evidence that voluntary, altruistic and repeated blood donation is the best way for countries to ensure a safe and sufficient blood supply," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses. "Nicaragua's experience is an inspiration for other countries working toward this goal."
In Latin America and the Caribbean, only one in three blood units is collected from voluntary, altruistic donors. The remainder comes almost entirely through "family replacement" donations, in which family members or friends are recruited to donate blood before a patient undergoes a medical procedure.
PAHO/WHO data show that blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis are much more common in blood from paid and replacement donors than in blood from purely altruistic donors. Research suggests this is because paid and family donors are less likely to admit risky behaviors than people whose only motivation is to provide "the gift of life."
Worldwide, the number of countries that obtain 100 percent of their blood supplies from voluntary, altruistic donors increased by 50 percent between 2002 and 2008, according to WHO. In Latin America, however, only two of 20 countries have been able to secure enough altruistic donations to maintain a steady and sufficient blood supply.
Nicaragua's achievement was the result of a six-year effort by the Ministry of Health and the National Red Cross to strengthen, consolidate and increase the safety of the country's National Blood Service, using €5.9 million in support from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. A reorganization effort reduced the number of blood banks from 26 to only two, plus three collection centers, while a mass communication campaign helped increase voluntary donations from fewer than 40,000 units in 2005 to nearly 75,000 units in 2010.
Today, Nicaragua's two blood banks provide fully screened blood and blood products to more than 60 health units across the country.
"This achievement would be remarkable even in a larger, wealthier country," noted Dr. José Ramiro Cruz, PAHO's top expert on safe blood supplies. "That a small country, with only 6 million people, could succeed in this way shows that it should be possible for others to follow suit."
Countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are working with support from PAHO/WHO, IFRC, the International Society of Blood Transfusion (ISBT), and the International Federation of Blood Donor Organizations (IFBDO) to increase the safety and sufficiency of blood supplies through screening and increased voluntary, altruistic blood donation.
Noteworthy achievements by other countries of the Region include:
- Canada, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, the Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, and the United States all rely entirely on voluntary, altruistic donors for their blood supplies.
- Argentina, which is hosting the global launch of this year's World Blood Donor Day, has increased voluntary blood donations from 6 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2010 and has set a target of reaching 1 million voluntary donors by the end of 2011.
- Over 99.9 percent of blood units collected in Latin America and the Caribbean are screened for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis. Some 96.5 percent of units are screened for t. cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas' disease.
- In Latin America and the Caribbean, some 9 million people donated blood in 2010.
World Blood Donor Day, observed each year on June 14, recognizes people around the world whose voluntary donations help ensure sufficient, safe and equitable supplies. Their contributions are essential to ensuring that every patient has access to blood when he or she needs it.
"We cannot just recruit blood donors," said Dr. Cruz. "We also must provide them with quality and caring treatment to ensure that they remain healthy and continue to give blood voluntarily for many years to come."
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples, and also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
- World Blood Donor Day 2011 (PAHO/WHO)
- Argentina hosts the global launch of World Blood Donor Day
- PAHO/WHO Blood Services website
- "Gift Blood is the Safest Blood," Perspectives in Health magazine