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Save a life. Donate blood voluntarily and regularly for no remuneration

BY: G.D. Zaney

Every second of every day, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), someone in the world needs a blood transfusion to survive and, in most developing countries, those requiring blood transfusions still depend on paid donors or family member donors.

And every day, WHO says, about 800 women die worldwide die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, with severe bleeding— during delivery and after childbirth— as a major cause of mortality, morbidity and long-term disability.

Again, according to WHO, one pint of blood can save three people's lives and that apart from severely anaemic women and anaemic children, donated blood are also used to save the lives of accident victims with excess blood loss, surgical, cancerous and thalassaemia patients, and people suffering from haemophilia, sickle cell anaemia and blood clotting disorders, among others.

Available data from WHO further indicates that even though 108 million blood donations are made annually, worldwide, safe blood available is always insufficient to meet the needs of users due to high demand, especially in developing countries, where, for example, children under five years of age receive 65 per cent of the blood transfusions.

There is no doubt, indeed, that adequate supply of blood and blood products can only be ensured through regular and safe donations by self motivated, voluntary and unpaid blood donors (giving blood voluntarily and for no remuneration)—and this requires extra and concerted efforts, possibly through a sensitization campaign, to inculcate in the citizenry the need to become blood donors and for lapsed donors to resume donation.

Against this backcloth and guided by the International Blood Donor Day celebrations since 1995 and the World Health Day in 2000—all of which focused on blood safety— a World Blood Donor Day (WBDD) inaugural meeting was held on June 14, 2004 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Consequently, at its 58th World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva in May 2005, the 192 Member-States of WHO made a unanimous declaration of support for voluntary unpaid blood donation and passed resolution, WHA58.13, designating WBDD as an annual event to be observed worldwide on June 14 to help motivate all countries worldwide to thank blood donors for their extraordinary gesture and to promote voluntary, safe and unpaid blood donations to ensure sufficient stocks of blood in the blood banks.

This date (June 14) was chosen to honour Nobel Prize winner, Dr Karl Landsteiner, born on June 14, 1868 and who developed the ABO system of classifying blood groups.

WBDD celebrations, held since 2005, are sponsored by four international organizations—WHO, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCRCS), International Federation of Blood Donor Organizations (IFBDOs) and the International Society of Blood Transfusion (ISBT)—who work for the promotion of voluntary unpaid blood donation and the provision of safe blood.

In addition to its founding partners, the WBDD movement is also aided by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), Association of Donor Recruitment Professionals (ADRP), Rotary International and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The others are the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Some of the objectives of the WBDD celebration are to recognize the role blood donors play in saving the lives and improving the health of millions. The event also creates awareness about the availability, safety and appropriate use of blood and blood products, and motivates blood donors for safe blood donation for saving the life of mothers and babies, and persons suffering from blood disorders, and to motivate voluntary blood donors through educational programmes and campaigns to donate more and regularly in order to strengthen the blood transfusion services.

Indeed, WBDD presents a rare opportunity to all donors for celebrating it on national and global levels as well as to commemorate the birthday anniversary of the Karl Landsteiner, a great scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his great discovery of the ABO blood group system which is still used today to ensure the safety of blood transfusions.

Since its inception in 2005, WBDD has been celebrated under various themes. In 2005, WBDD was celebrated on the theme: “Celebrating your Gift of Blood” which highlighted true stories of people whose lives have been changed — in many cases saved — by blood while in 2006, it was celebrated on the theme: "I am a Blood Donor, and I Save Lives".

On June 14, 2007, the global community again celebrated WBDD on the theme: “Safe Blood for Safe Motherhood” to highlight the life-saving role of safe blood transfusion in maternal and prenatal care and in 2008, the Day was observed on the theme: "Giving Blood Regularly" which encouraged more people to become voluntary blood donors and underlined the importance of regular donation to prevent blood shortages.

The global theme for WBDD 2009— “Achieving a 100 per cent Non-Remunerated Donation of Blood and Blood Components”— which was celebrated in Melbourne, Australia, placed a renewed emphasis on improving the safety and sufficiency of blood supply, and in 2010, the focus of WBDD was on young donors, with the slogan: “New Blood for the World”

"More Blood, More Life." was the theme for WBDD 2011 which reinforced the urgent need for more people all over the world to become life-savers by volunteering to donate blood regularly while in 2012, WBDD, observed on the theme: “Every Blood Donor is A Hero”, implied that every one of us could become a hero by giving blood and strongly encouraging more people all over the world to donate blood voluntarily and regularly.

On the 10th anniversary of WBDD in 2013, "Give the Gift of Life: Donate Blood" was chosen as the theme in recognition of the value of donated blood to the patient, not only in saving life, but also in helping people live longer and more productive lives.

In 2014, the focus of WBDD was to increase awareness about why timely access to safe blood and blood products is essential for all countries as part of a comprehensive approach to prevent maternal deaths, hence the theme: "Safe Blood for Saving Mothers".

This year, WBDD 2015 was celebrated on the theme: "Thank you for Saving my Life", which sought to accord recognition to blood donors who save lives every day through their blood donations. The theme also strongly encourages more people all over the world to donate blood voluntarily and regularly with the slogan “Give freely, give often. Blood donation matters.”

WBDD 2015, hosted globally by China and by Brazil for the Americas, aimed to highlight stories from people whose lives have been saved through blood donation, as a way of motivating regular blood donors to continue giving blood and people in good health who have never given blood to begin doing so.

The need for blood and blood products is increasing every year, in spite of the efforts through WBDD, and many patients requiring life-saving transfusion do not have timely access to safe blood and blood products.

Without a system based on voluntary unpaid blood donation, particularly regular voluntary donation, no country can provide sufficient blood for all patients who require transfusion.

WHO, in what is referred to as The Melbourne Declaration of June 2009 on '100% Voluntary Non-Remunerated Donation (VNRD) of Blood and Blood Components'— which is founded on the policies articulated in World Health Assembly resolution (WHA 28.72) on the Utilization and Supply of Human Blood and Blood Products— therefore, set a target of 100 per cent of blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors for all countries by the year 2020.

World Health Assembly resolution WHA 28.72, supported by another resolution WHA58.13 Blood Safety, also urges Member-States to promote the development of national blood services based on voluntary non-remunerated blood donation, with the proposal to establish a World Blood Donor Day (WBDD).

In an effort to promote the development of national blood services based on voluntary non-remunerated blood donation, one can hardly also ignore The Rome Declaration on Achieving Self‐Sufficiency in Safe Blood and Blood Products, based on VNRD.

World Health Assembly resolution WHA63.12 on the Availability, Safety and Quality of Blood Products (2010) urges WHO Member-States‘ to take all the necessary steps to establish, implement and support nationally‐coordinated, efficiently-managed and sustainable blood and plasma programmes, according to the availability of resources, with the aim of achieving self‐sufficiency’, where Self‐sufficiency in safe blood and blood products based on VNRD means that the national needs of patients for these products, as assessed within the framework of the national health system, are met in a timely manner, that patients have equitable access to transfusion services and blood products and that these products are obtained from voluntary non‐remunerated donations of national, and where needed, of regional origin, such as from neighbouring countries.

WHO’s integrated strategy for safe and effective use of blood includes the establishment of a centralised, nationally-coordinated blood transfusion service; collection of blood only from voluntary unpaid blood donors from low-risk populations; testing of all donated blood, including for transfusion transmissible infections; and the reduction in needless transfusions through the effective clinical use of blood.

By June 2006, it became obvious that the world was making slow progress towards the goal of 100 per cent unpaid, voluntary blood donation, falling short of ensuring the safety and the sustainability of blood supplies, although countries such as China, Malaysia and India had shown progress through the application of stricter principles within their Acquired Immunno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) prevention programmes.

Available information indicates that about 83 million blood donations were collected worldwide from voluntary unpaid blood donors in 2011, representing an increase of about 8 million donations from 2004.

Currently, 60 countries— 35 high-income countries, 18 middle-income countries and 7 low-income countries—collect 100% of their blood supply from voluntary unpaid blood donors.

Six of these 60 countries— Cook Islands (from 40%), Kenya (from 53%), Nicaragua (from 41%), Turkey (from 40%), United Arab Emirates (from 59%) and Zambia (from 72%) — have achieved this target from a percentage lower than 75% reported in 2004:

With 73 countries still collecting more than 50% of their blood supply from replacement or paid donors means that extra efforts are required in the campaign towards the goal of 100% unpaid, voluntary blood donation.

Indeed, WHO provides policy guidance and technical assistance to support countries in phasing out family/replacement blood donation and eliminating paid donation by 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.

Providing safe and adequate supplies of blood and blood products is thus expected to be an integral part of every country’s national health care policy and infrastructure.

In Ghana, in response to WHO requirements, Ghana’s National Blood Service was established and presently collects just below 50% of the annual national demand of 250,000 units of safe blood for patients.

Assisting the Blood Bank in this endeavour includes organizations like Mobile Telecommunications Network (MTN) Ghana Foundation, which undertakes the assignment through its annual blood donation exercise dubbed: ‘Save a Life Campaign and Ecobank Ghana Limited (EGH).

This year’s exercise, the sixth in a series, was organized by MTN Ghana Foundation in partnership with EGH, and with support from the Central Car Park Complex Limited, Coca Cola Company, Tobinco Pharmaceuticals, Dapaska Enterprise, Nanaba Enterprise, Gold Street Company Limited, Maranatha Christian Advocacy and Embalinks Telekoms—all Ghanaian companies.

The exercise involves the mobilization of MTN staff and the general public to voluntarily donate blood to replenish Blood Banks in selected hospitals in Ghana, namely the Ridge and Effia Nkwanta Hospitals, and the Korle-Bu, Komfo Anokye and Tamale Teaching hospitals.

In 2014, the exercise yielded 625 pints of blood from across the country, exceeding the target by 125 pints.

Earlier in November 2013, the National Blood Bank honoured MTN Ghana Foundation for being the highest corporate donor to the National Blood Bank.

On the eve of WBDD 2015, MTN Ghana again organized another blood donation exercise in Accra to raise blood to support victims receiving treatment in hospital as a result of the floods and fire disaster that occurred on June 3.

Present at the event was Miss Ghana 2014, Nadia Ntanu, who is also the Brand Ambassador for the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital Blood Bank.

Miss Ntanu, whose visit formed part of activities marking WBDD 2015, had called on the management and staff of MTN Ghana to express appreciation to the company for its annual blood donation exercises that have helped stock the National Blood Bank and saved many lives.

With concerted efforts, Ghana could join the 60 countries that have succeeded in collecting 100 per cent of their blood supply from voluntary unpaid blood donors. The efforts must not be left to MTN and Ecobank alone. Others must join and the campaign must be intensified. As a Brand Ambassador for the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital Blood Bank, more is expected of Miss Ghana 2014.

Remember, the target is a 100 per cent of blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors for all countries by the year 2020. More blood means more life. Be a regular blood donor and save the life of mothers and children.

The writer is an officer of the Information Services Department.
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