What is World Blood Donor Day?

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Paint the town red this World Blood Donor Day. Plenty of Kiwis need a blood transfusion at some point – so encourage everyone to sign up to save a life.

It’s a fact that 1 in 3 of all the people you know will need blood in their lifetime. New Zealand’s voluntary blood donors are unsung heroes. Without them, the prognosis would be dire for people with cancer, pregnant mums and their babies, patients having surgery, accident victims, and so many others who rely on blood transfusions to have a healthy life.

To thank the world’s voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors, World Blood Donor Day is celebrated every year in many countries on 14th June. This coincides with the 1868 birthday of Karl Landsteiner, the great scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the ABO blood groups.

World blood stats

Around 108 million units of donated blood are collected globally every year (including 125,000 in New Zealand). Blood is separated out into three products – red blood cells, plasma and platelets – so one donation of blood can potentially be used to help three people. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Nearly 50% of these blood donations are collected in high-income countries, home to less than 20% of the world’s population. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS), New Zealand’s supply of blood products is one of the safest in the world. However, in many countries, there is not an adequate supply of safe blood, and blood services face the challenge of making sufficient blood available, while also ensuring its quality and safety.

An adequate and reliable supply of safe blood can be assured by a stable base of regular, voluntary, unpaid blood donors. These are also the safest group of donors as the prevalence of blood-borne infections is lowest among these donors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is working towards a goal for all countries to obtain all their blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors by 2020. Today, just 62 countries have national blood supplies based on close to 100% voluntary, unpaid blood donations, with 40 countries still dependent on family donors and even paid donors.

Safety starts with screening

In many countries, the lack of a safe blood supply leads to unnecessary death or severe complications due to contaminated blood. All donated blood should be screened for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis prior to transfusion. Yet 25 countries are not able to screen all donated blood for one or more of these infections. Testing is not reliable in many countries because of irregular supply of test kits, staff shortages, poor quality test kits, or lack of basic quality in laboratories.

You may thank your lucky starsand think global differences don’t really affect you. But think again. What about holidays? What if you or your family has the misfortune to be involved in an accident while in another country? Should you require a transfusion or blood products of any kind, you are then at the mercy of that country’s “blood bank”. And herein lies the question mark.

We applaud the work done by the World Health Organisation to encourage, educate and help other less fortunate countries do better in this area.

Donors recognised, thanked

Safe blood supplies are a scarce commodity, especially in developing countries. Since 2004, the World Health Organisation has used World Blood Donor Day on June 14 every year to draw attention to and thank voluntary blood donors for the gift of life they selflessly provide for others.

Whether motivated by the greater good or a personal experience with a transfusion need, donors are crucial to the support of complex medical and surgical procedures. And there’s always room for plenty more donors – only 4% of eligible donors in New Zealand roll up their sleeves in any given year.

It only takes an hour and every donation can save lives. Plus, afterwards you get to relax with a drink and a biscuit – and feel good knowing you’ve helped your countrymen in need. To sign up to donate blood, contact the New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) on 0800 448 325 or visit http://www.nzblood.co.nz/

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