According to experts at an international conference wrapping up today in Beijing, the world faces a serious shortage of blood for transfusions, and new approaches are required to encourage people to donate. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the World Health Organization sponsored the meeting.
Neelam Dhingra, WHO coordinator in charge of blood transfusion safety, said 178 countries declared a total annual collection of 81 million 350-milliliter units of donated blood in 2000-2001 -- a quantity insufficient to meet demand, especially in developing countries. She estimated that 6 million of those 81 million units were not tested. Sixty percent of donated blood comes from developed countries and only 40 percent from the developing countries that are home to 80 percent of the world's population. In developing countries, most of the blood is collected from relatives of the sick or from paid donors, Dhingra said.
Cultural barriers play a part: Some African men feel donating blood will make them impotent, while some people in Asia feel it is important to keep their blood in their own family, said Peter Carolan, senior officer with the International Red Cross' Blood, Health and Care Department. It is important, he said, that these countries begin educating children early on about the importance of donating blood. Carolan advocated sending blood collection vans to schools. Countries like China, where an unsanitary blood-buying scheme caused an HIV outbreak among poor farmers, face the challenge of convincing people it is safe to donate blood.
In developed countries, the task is donor retention. Blood donation should be as painless and convenient as possible so that donors feel motivated to continue donating, Carolan said.