Blood donation success stories from countries

Sri Lanka

From a single room to high-tech facilities

A nursing officer checks information on a blood sample.
National Blood Transfusion Service, Sri Lanka

The first public appeal for blood donations was in 1959 in an attempt to save the life of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranayake who was shot in an assassination attempt and died of his wounds the following day. At the time, the country’s entire blood bank was just one room near the surgical unit in the National Hospital of Sri Lanka. Blood was collected in glass bottles and was screened for malaria and syphilis. Donors were paid 10 rupees for their donation.

The past two decades have seen a dramatic transformation of Sri Lanka’s National Blood Transfusion Service, from a single room in a hospital to state-of-the art facilities at a national centre in Colombo and five other centres, as well as 70 hospital-based blood banks. Paid donation ended in 1979 and the service currently collects around 302 883 units of blood every year, 87% from voluntary unpaid blood donors. Regular blood donors receive membership cards that recognize their commitment at four levels – red, silver, gold and platinum. Donated blood is screened for all major infections and converted into components for optimal use.

The dedication of staff working at the National Blood Transfusion Service has been key to the positive changes. Technical assistance from WHO and funds from Japan and the World Bank to build new facilities and improve professional training have also been important.

In May 2012, the service received the International Society of Blood Transfusion Award for Developing Countries. The Sri Lankan government has given the green light for a US$ 32 million upgrade of the blood service, with assistance from the Netherlands. The project will include introduction of ultra-high sensitive test methods to reduce transmission of bloodborne infections and a frozen red cell facility to allow rare blood types to be preserved for up to 10 years. The existing facilities only provide a maximum storage of 42 days for red blood cells.