News and Public Information
Press Release

PAHO Honors Volunteers on World Blood Donor Day

Washington, D.C., June 14, 2006 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization observed World Blood Donor Day today, honoring 14 volunteers from throughout the Americas who have made notable contributions to the promotion of voluntary, unpaid blood donations in their countries.

From left to right, Dr. Richard Benjamin, Chief Medical Director, American Red Cross, Dr. Jose Luis Di Fabio (PAHO) and PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses. (Photos Armando Waak/PAHO)

PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses praised the diverse group of volunteers, noting, "Thanks to the work of these and many others, 11 countries of the Americas have reached the goal" of having 50 percent of their blood from volunteer, unremunerated donors, setting an example for the world.

Among the winners of the awards was Jacqueline Johnson, a former Miss North Dakota who launched a statewide awareness drive in her state, spoke to more than 60,000 people in a quarter of all North Dakota communities, and helped collect more than 5,000 blood products. "Helping save lives has meant the most, and I hope my passion for blood donation will take root in the hearts of others,"she said.

Judith Ostronic, an American Red Cross volunteer who received an award for her contributions to developing new campaigns to attract Hispanic, African American and Asian blood donors, said "Blood is a gift, but it is also a lifeline. Adequate financial resources are imperative. Education of, and with, these communities is a must. And the opportunity to volunteer blood, time or money must be offered, encouraged and appreciated."

World Blood Donor Day was established at the 58th World Health Assembly in May 2005 by WHO's 192 Member States, to urge all countries in the world to thank blood donors, promote voluntary, unpaid blood donations and ensure safe supplies of blood for all.

Former Miss North Dakota Jacqueline Johnson speaks at the ceremony.

Other winners from the Americas honored today include Carl L.T. Brown of the Cayman Islands, a marketing expert who promotes blood donation; Fidaa El-Samrout of Canada, a student in Ottawa who volunteers at Canadian Blood Services; Juan Eslaquit of Nicaragua, who volunteers at the National Blood Center; Emilia Galvez Lopez of Chile, co-founder of Campanitas, a group of senior adult volunteers for altruistic blood donation; Wilma Kock Alvarado of Chile, a Red Cross volunteer and president of Campanitas, which has participated in 100 mobile blood collection drives with the Ministry of Health of Chile and the Red Cross; Fernando Lopes de Melo of Brazil, a volunteer donor who helped recruit 57,000 volunteer donors through the "More Life" project; Maria de los Angeles Moya of Costa Rica, an 80-year-old nurse who has been a blood volunteer and promoter for 25 years; Ivan Oliveira of Suriname, a teacher who has donated blood 56 times and recruited many students; Jaime Ospina Velasco of Colombia, a Rotary Club member who works with Colombia's Blood Safety Program and its National Institute of Health to promote blood donation; Ruben Perez of Cuba, a social worker at the Hematology and Immunity Institute who has been promoting voluntary altruistic donation for 10 years; Gwendoline Pogo of St. Lucia, a registered nurse who recruits colleagues at Sandals Grande St. Lucia to donate blood three to four times a year; and Tessa Russomando of Uruguay, a blood donor for 30 years who helped create the Donors Club ABN AMRO Bank in her country.

From left to right, PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses, Dr. Jorge Bermudez (PAHO) and Mr. Jim Mac Pherson, Chief Executive Director, America's Blood Centers.

Globally, the goal of 100 percent unpaid, voluntary blood donation is progressing slowly, falling short of ensuring the safety and the sustainability of blood supplies. Most developing countries still depend on paid donors or family member donors. The World Health Organization (WHO) global survey on blood collection and blood testing practices issued today shows that out of the 124 countries that provided data, 56 saw an increase in unpaid voluntary donation. The remaining 68 have either made no progress or have seen a decline in the number of unpaid voluntary donors. Of the 124 countries, 49 have reached 100 percent unpaid voluntary blood donation. Out of those 49, only 17 are developing countries.

Regular, unpaid voluntary donors are the mainstay of a safe and sustainable blood supply because they are less likely to lie about their health status and more likely to keep themselves healthy. WHO figures show that the number of donations per 1000 population is about 15 times greater in high-income than in low-income countries, though developing countries have an even greater need for sustained supplies of safe blood since many conditions requiring blood transfusions - such as severe malaria-related anemia in children or serious pregnancy complications - are still claiming over one million lives every year. About 25 percent of deaths caused by severe bleeding during delivery could be prevented through access to safe blood.

Volunteer Maria de los Angeles Moya, (right) Costa Rica, with PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses.

In the area of blood testing, 56 out of 124 countries did not screen all of their donated blood for HIV, hepatitis B and C and syphilis, the survey showed, due to scarcity of test kits, lack of infrastructure and shortage of trained staff. Of the countries surveyed, St. Lucia made the biggest jump forward, going from 24.39 percent of collected blood coming from unpaid volunteers in 2002 to 83.05 percent in 2004. Malaysia went from 50 percent in 2002 to 99 percent in 2004 and India from 45percent to 52 percent.

The World Health Organization introduced the 100 percent unpaid, voluntary blood donation policy in 1997. World Blood Donor Day, an annual event on June 14, is a day to help governments reach that target by creating awareness of the need for sustainable supplies of safe blood. It is also a day to thank existing blood donors for the remarkable gift they make to those whose lives they have improved or saved, and to encourage new donors to commit.

"Even though we have seen advances in voluntary blood donation as a result of the efforts that the Member States of the Pan American Health Organization have made in recent years, the Region of the Americas is still a long way from achieving the goal that all blood donations be voluntary, altruistic and periodic," said Dr. José Ramiro Cruz, regional advisor in Laboratory and Blood Services at PAHO. "In the process of promoting voluntary and altruistic blood donations, we have learned many lessons. One of them is the importance of the participation and commitment of civil society. For this reason, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization wants to recognize the contribution of those who support the activities of promotion of voluntary blood donors through their efforts."

For more information please contact , PAHO, Public Information, 202-974-3459.