According to World Health Organization estimates, a country’s basic requirements for safe blood could be met if one percent of that nation’s population donated blood. The WHO reports that 65 percent of all blood donations are made in developed countries, home to just 25 percent of the world’s population, and in some regions access to safe blood is limited. By ensuring that individuals have an understanding of the blood donation process and the importance of donating, it may be possible to ensure that blood supplies are available able to meet the need.
Blood donation has advanced significantly since the first blood transfusion involving a human being was performed in 1667, however the need remains. A reported one in seven people entering a hospital needs blood, and just one pint of blood – the amount obtained during a standard donation procedure – can save up to three lives. Each year, nearly 5 million people in the United States receive life-saving blood transfusions. During surgery, following an accident, or due to a disease or medical condition, individuals may require whole blood or blood components. Whole blood is the most common type of blood donation, during which approximately a pint of blood is given and the blood is then separated into its components. Both platelets and plasma are collected using a process called apheresis, during which the donor is hooked up to a machine that collects the desired blood component and then returns the rest of the blood to the donor. A double red blood cell donation in which only the red blood cells are collected also utilizes apheresis.
In order to be eligible to donate blood an individual must be in good health, at least 17 years old, at least 110 pounds, and able to pass the physical and health history assessment. In addition, before accepting the full donation, the level of iron is tested in a small sample of blood. All donated blood and blood components are subjected to a number of tests to ensure that they are free of bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, and syphilis. Blood is also tested to determine the blood type (A, B, AB, or O) and Rh factor (either positive or negative) to ensure that it will be provided to compatible donors. Anyone in need of blood can receive type O red blood cells, and individuals with type AB blood can receive any blood type – thus individuals with type O blood are called “universal donors” and those with type AB blood are “universal recipients.”
Despite the need to maintain an adequate blood supply and the simplicity and safety of the blood donation process, reports indicate that younger individuals say they are “too busy” or “too scared” to give blood, and one in five donors under 30 have stopped donating. An estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, less than 10 percent donate annually.
Though blood components can be stored – red blood cells for 42 hours refrigerated or up to 10 years frozen, platelets at room temperature for five days, and plasma for up to a year frozen – researchers continue to work to develop a viable synthetic alternative to donated blood. By encouraging people to donate blood and working to find a synthetic blood alternative, it may be possible to ensure that the available blood supply meets the need.