Every 14 June, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls on countries around the world to celebrate World Blood Donor Day to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products and to thank voluntary, unpaid blood donors for their life-saving gifts of blood. The day also gives an opportunity to call governments and national health authorities to action to provide adequate resources and put into place systems and infrastructures to increase the collection of blood from voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors.
Safe blood is needed for accident victims, surgical and cancer patients, children with severe anaemia, women with complications during pregnancy and/or childbirth, and in many other cases as well. The need for safe blood is constant because it can only be stored for a limited time before it must be used. When you donate safe blood, you are saving lives.
Blood as it is collected from the donor via a vein is almost never used directly for blood transfusions. Patients often only need a specific part of the blood. A patient only receives the component that they require. This prevents unnecessary side-effects. The remaining components can be used by other patients. This allows your blood to help more patients.
Before you actually donate blood, you will be screened. Your general health will be checked and your blood type will be determined before your first donation. Every time you give blood, a small medical screening will be performed to make sure it is safe for you to donate at that point in time.
It is very important to be truthful about any reasons why your blood might not be suitable. Although blood is always tested for infections that can be transmitted by transfusion, such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis, a test may not be able to detect a very recent infection. This means that even though the blood may test negative for a particular infection, it might still infect a patient receiving a blood transfusion.
Blood donation itself takes 10-15 minutes. You will be made as comfortable as possible, usually in a special chair or on a bed. The area inside one of your elbows will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution before a trained health worker inserts a sterile needle, connected to a blood collection bag, into your vein.
All you should feel is a gentle pressure and a momentary “pinprick” sensation. Blood donation is very safe and discomfort or problem during or after donating is very uncommon. After donating blood, you will take a seat in the waiting area and have something to eat and drink, often this will be sweets like cookies and sodas.
The criteria for who can donate varies per country but blood can often be donated by most people who are healthy and do not have an infection that can be transmitted through their blood. Most commonly those between the ages of 17 and 65 can donate, but some countries allow younger and older people to donate as well. Healthy adults can give blood regularly, at least twice a year. Your local blood service can tell you how frequently you can give blood.
Sadly, some perfectly healthy people are excluded from donating blood. One such group is men who have sex with men (MSM), for whom restrictions vary from country to country. Temporary restrictions are sometimes called "deferrals", since blood donors who are found ineligible may be found eligible at a later date. However, many deferrals are indefinite meaning that donation are not accepted at any point in the future, constituting a de facto ban. Even men who have monogamous relations with their same-sex partner are found ineligible.
An example of a deferral that time has proven to be without cause can be found in the United States. The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) asserts that the recommended one year deferral window is "supported by the best available scientific evidence", however during the COVID-19 pandemic, it relaxed the deferral period to three months for MSM and women who have sex with MSM.
The FDA stated that it expects these changes to remain in place even after the pandemic ends, which means that the original one year deferral was at best inordinate and at worst a homophobic reaction to a stereotype. Other country’s have similarly reduced the length of deferrals, and some are investigating the risks for dropping the deferral completely.
In 2021, the slogan for World Blood Donor Day is ‘Give blood and keep the world beating’ with the intend to highlight the essential contribution blood donors make to keeping the world pulsating by saving lives and improving others’ health. The specific objectives of this year’s campaign are to:
Those who want to register as a blood donor in the Netherland can do so on the website of Sanquin, who are responsible for a safe and efficient blood supply in the Netherlands on a not-for-profit basis.