By Dayna Kerecman Myers
With their altruistic donations, the Buddhist monks in the photo above are helping Cambodia strengthen its system of voluntary blood donors. They embody the spirit of World Blood Donor Day, celebrated every June 14 to encourage people around the world to donate blood.
For the tenth anniversary of World Blood Donor Day this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for all countries to obtain all of their blood donations from voluntary (unpaid) blood donors by 2020.
At Stanford Blood Center, we’re already there. Every one of our blood donors is a volunteer, and we’d like to thank our each of them today for their generous, caring spirits.
While all US blood centers depend on voluntary donors, in many countries that is still not the case. According to the WHO, currently 60 countries collect 100% of their blood supply from voluntary unpaid blood donors (35 are high-income countries, 18 middle-income countries and seven low-income countries). However, 73 countries still collect more than 50% of their blood supply from replacement or paid donors.
Why is it important for blood donors to be voluntary? Dr. Neelam Dhingra, Coordinator for Blood Transfusion Safety at WHO, explains, “Blood collection from voluntary non-remunerated blood donors is the cornerstone of a safe and sufficient blood supply in all countries. More voluntary blood donors are needed to meet the increasing needs and to improve access to this life-saving therapy.” Regular voluntary unpaid blood donors are the safest source of blood, as there are fewer bloodborne infections among these donors than among people who give blood in exchange for money or who donate for family members in emergencies.
While more countries need support transitioning to voluntary donors, the trend is definitely moving in that direction. In 2011, nearly 83 million blood donations were collected worldwide from voluntary unpaid blood donors, an increase of close to 8 million donations from 2004.
WHO created World Blood Donor Day ten years ago to help raise awareness about the importance of safe blood supplies, and to thank voluntary donors around the world for saving lives and improving health. Countries around the world mark World Blood Donor Day with sporting events, concerts, and mobile blood drives. The global holiday, held annually, falls on the birthday of Karl Landsteiner (June 14, 1868). Lansteiner developed the ABO blood group system, which we rely on still today to ensure the safety of blood transfusions.
As the public health arm of the United Nations, the WHO provides policy guidance and technical assistance to support countries in developing national blood systems based on voluntary unpaid blood donations, and implementing quality systems to ensure that safe and quality blood and blood products are available and used appropriately for all people who need them.
To learn more about efforts to inspire voluntary blood donors abroad, read the WHO’s story about blood donors in France and Sri Lanka. France is this year’s host country for World Blood Donor Day, and Sri Lanka will host next year.