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14 June: World Blood Donor Day — anyone can save a life

Eight out of ten people in the world do not have access to safe blood

World Blood Donor Day celebrations
World Blood Donor Day celebrations

Thanks to the millions of people who give blood safely and anonymously, thousands of lives are saved every day. But the chances of receiving a safe transfusion — or any transfusion at all — vary enormously from country to country. Some 60% of global blood supplies goes to 18% of the world's people, leaving 82% of the global population inadequately covered.

World Blood Donor Day 2005 is a time to thank the world's regular, voluntary blood donors as well as a day for personal reflection. Almost everyone can contribute to saving a life, either by becoming a regular donor or — if health reasons prevent that — by volunteering to help on blood donation days.

"Safe blood is a fundamental need for the health system of any country," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). "WHO's 192 Member States have recently agreed that World Blood Donor Day will be an officially recognized annual event. This will help raise awareness of the continuing need for safe blood and safe donors." WHO and other organizations have advocated clear strategies to increase universal access to safe blood. These are based on promoting regular, voluntary, unpaid donations and on nationally coordinated blood transfusion services.

Malawi, a country with 14.4% incidence of HIV/AIDS and huge development challenges, has managed to set up a functioning blood service based on voluntary unpaid donation in just two years. Since 2004, when safe blood became available, the death rate among children at a major hospital in Blantyre has dropped by 60% for children with severe anaemia due to malaria, and the maternal mortality rate due to pregnancy complications has fallen by more than 50%.

At the heart of Malawi's efforts to ensure universal access to safe blood was the move to a system of 100% regular voluntary, unpaid blood donors. Experience has shown that the safest donor is one who gives blood at least twice a year without receiving money or goods in exchange, understands the principle of altruism, answers questions for donor selection honestly, and will defer or exclude him/herself from donation if there is any risk to the recipient. Because such donors generally have a sense of responsibility towards their community, they tend to keep themselves healthy so as to be able to keep giving safe blood.

However, much more progress is needed globally. So far, only 40 countries have established a 100% voluntary blood donation system. Despite some recent improvements in this important area, fewer than 30% of countries have a nationally coordinated blood transfusion service in place. Too many countries, including emerging economies, still rely on family replacement donors (a member from the patient's family donating his/her blood) or paid donors.

HIV-contaminated blood still accounts for approximately 5% of HIV infections in Africa. While in many countries more and more testing is being done to make blood safe, most developing nations do not test for diseases such as HIV or hepatitis B and C. Annually, some six million tests that should be done for infections are not done.

World Blood Donor Day is a celebration of those who are directly responsible for saving or improving the lives of millions of patients by giving their blood regularly and voluntarily. It is also an urgent invitation to countries across the globe to promote safe donors and do all that is possible to safeguard patients by ensuring an adequate, safe supply of blood.

World Blood Donor Day 2005 celebrations are planned in most countries with the global event this year taking place in London. A "celebration gallery" will be unveiled in Trafalgar Square showing 100 huge photographs of blood recipients from England and the world. Television personality Heather Mills-McCartney, herself a beneficiary of blood transfusion following a serious accident in 1993, will preside over celebrations.

The celebration galleries in London and elsewhere in England will feature testimonials from people of all ages — and their families — whose lives have been saved or radically improved by blood transfusions. It is a unique way for recipients to express their gratitude to the strangers who have changed their lives.

World Blood Donor Day is co-sponsored by four international organizations working for the provision of safe blood globally through the promotion of voluntary, non-remunerated blood donation: the World Health Organization, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation of Blood Donor Organizations and the International Society of Blood Transfusion. This year, the main events are organized by the National Blood Service of England and Wales.

For more information contact:

Ms Daniela Bagozzi
Telephone: +41 22 791 4544
Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5490