PAHO calls for blood donation systems to be strengthened to ensure 100% voluntary donations

Voluntary donations

Washington D.C., June 12, 2019 (PAHO/WHO) – In Latin America and the Caribbean, voluntary donation accounts for less than half of all blood supplies. For World Blood Donor Day, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is calling for countries to strengthen their voluntary, unpaid blood donation systems, the best way to ensure universal access to an adequate supply of safe blood for transfusions.

While Latin America and the Caribbean has made significant advances to improve the safety and availability of blood for transfusions, with donations rising to 10.5 million units in 2017 – an increase of 13% since 2015, the percentage of voluntary donations remains largely unchanged.

The theme of this year’s World Blood Donor Day (June 14) is “Safe blood for all” of which voluntary donation is a vital part. The theme draws attention to the importance of timely supplies of safe and quality-assured blood and blood components as an integral part of universal health and a key component of effective health systems.

“The Region of the Americas has made huge efforts to increase voluntary blood donations in recent years but there are still significant disparities from country to country,” said Dr. Analía Porrás, Unit Chief of Medicines and Health Technologies at PAHO. “Regular, unpaid blood donation is a vital part of ensuring the safety and availability of blood components, so it is important that all countries do more to move towards this model,” she added.

Voluntary blood donation in the Americas

Safe Blood DonationAs of 2017, voluntary blood donation accounted for 5 million units, 46.5% of blood for transfusions in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a less than 1% increase from 2015, and far below the 100% goal recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure a sufficient and safe blood supply for transfusions. Currently, the majority of blood donation comes from so-called “required replacement donation”, followed by autologous donation and paid donation. 

The percentage of voluntary donations also varies significantly in the Region from country to country, accounting for 90% of donations in 10 countries, including Aruba, Bermuda, Colombia, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Guyana, Nicaragua, Turks and Caicos Islands and Suriname. Voluntary blood donation accounts for 50-90% of donations in 5 countries, and less than 50% of donations in 22 countries.

“Access to safe, quality blood and blood components is a vital element of universal health, particularly in the areas of emergency medicine, maternal and perinatal health and surgery,” said Mauricio Beltran Duran, Regional advisor for Blood and Transplant Services at PAHO. “We know that the availability of these components is indispensable to improve health outcomes and save lives, so it is critical to achieve the 100% WHO goal to ensure that no one gets left behind.”

PAHO/WHO recommends that countries dedicate the necessary resources and infrastructure to develop and sustain national integrated services for blood donation; ensure the quality and safety of blood and blood components in their systems; strengthen distribution networks so that blood and blood components are available when and where they are needed; and provide high-quality care to blood donors, among other measures.

World Blood Donor Day

World Blood Donor Day is celebrated all over the world each year on 14 June. The event serves to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood components and to thank blood donors for their life-saving gift of blood.

A blood service that gives patients timely access to sufficient, safe blood and blood components is a key element of universal health. In order to achieve this, countries must ensure the implementation of a nationally coordinated blood transfusion service based on voluntary non-remunerated blood donations.

Blood and blood components are vital for both planned treatments and urgent interventions and save millions of lives each year. They are particularly essential in the management of women suffering from bleeding associated with pregnancy and childbirth; children suffering from severe anemia due to malaria; patients with blood disorders; victims of trauma and emergencies; as well as patients undergoing medical and surgical procedures.

Costa Rica hosts World Blood Donor Day in the Americas

Costa Rica, which is hosting this year’s regional World Blood Donor Day event for the Americas, is one of the countries in the region that is working hard to improve voluntary donation and the availability of safe blood in order to meet the needs of its population.

Voluntary blood donation in the country has increased from 59% in 2015 to 61% in 2017, and the availability of blood per 1000 inhabitants increased from 14 to 16 units in the same period. Costa Rica screens 100% of blood donations in order to ensure their quality and safety. As a result, the country is on track to ensuring the availability and timely access to safe blood for everyone that needs it.

A commemorative event will be held in San Jose, Costa Rica on 14 June 2019. During the event, high-level officials will meet to discuss the urgent need to strengthen and invest in national blood systems.             

Blood donation by numbers in the Region of the Americas

  • Around 1800 blood donation centers from 37 countries in the Region collected more than 10.5 million units of blood in 2017
  • Between 2015 and 2017, there was an increase of 1 million units of blood donated
  • The availability of blood in the Region is 17 units of blood per 1000 inhabitants, however it is 9 units in low income countries, 17 units in the middle-income countries and 19 units in high income countries
  • Voluntary blood donation accounts for around 5 million units of donated blood in the Region.
  • Voluntary blood donation varies from country to country, accounting for 90% of donations in 10 countries, 50 to 90% in 5 countries and 50% of donations in 22 countries in the Region.