More than 15% of maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean are the result of hemorrhage. Ensuring the availability of safe blood from voluntary unpaid donors could prevent some 670 deaths each year

Washington, DC, 11 June, 2014 (PAHO / WHO) — On World Blood Donor Day, June 14, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is urging people to donate blood to prevent maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean.

World Blood Donor Day 2014

The slogan for this year's World Blood Donor Day campaign is "Give blood for those who give life. Safe blood for saving mothers." The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the importance of timely access to safe blood to prevent maternal deaths resulting from hemorrhage.

In 2011, some 4,400 women in the Americas died from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and 15.3% (about 676) of these were due to hemorrhage, a leading cause of maternal death in the region and worldwide.

Most maternal deaths are preventable. Timely delivery of care and safe, available and accessible blood for transfusion can mean the difference between life and death for many women.

"Providing adequate safe blood for transfusion is an essential service for universal health coverage and can help to save millions of lives and improve the health of people in need," said James Fitzgerald, Director of PAHO/WHO's Health Systems and Services department. "Safe blood must be waiting for the patient who needs it, and not the patient waiting for blood to save his or her life."

Maternal mortality not only claims women's lives, it also affects the well-being of children and families. A mother's death causes suffering, can lead to the breakdown of the family, and can mean reduced opportunities for a motherless child.

Research shows an inverse relationship between the availability of blood and maternal deaths: in countries with the lowest availability of blood, maternal mortality is higher.

Only 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean obtain 100% of donations from regular, voluntary unpaid donors, rather than through family and friends. In the past five years, the total number of blood units collected in the region has doubled. However, this increase is uneven across countries and comes mostly from family or replacement donors, which negatively affects blood safety and availability.

"We must double our efforts to improve the availability and access to safe blood and blood components coming 100% from voluntary donors," said Maria Dolores Perez-Rosales, PAHO/WHO Regional Advisor on Blood Services and Transplants.     

"Giving blood saves lives," said Perez-Rosales. "We need more people to commit to being regular, unpaid volunteer donors, and we need them to donate more often." Public education about the importance of regular, voluntary unpaid donation is essential to ensuring safe, ample blood supplies.

Mexico: Host country in the Americas

Mexico was chosen to host the regional launch of World Blood Donor Day 2014 in the Americas. Nearly 5,000 units of blood are donated every day in Mexico, for a total of approximately 2 million units per year. The country is committed to ensuring a safe, ample and equitably available blood supply obtained from regular, voluntary unpaid donors, rather than through family replacement.

The launch event will take place on Friday, 13 June at 10:00 a.m. in the Secretariat of Health (main building).

World Blood Donor Day was established by WHO in 2005 and is observed each year on June 14. It highlights the lifesaving role of voluntary unpaid blood donors and is an opportunity to thank those donors who give this precious gift, helping to save millions of lives each year.

PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO and is part of the inter-American system.