Every few seconds, someone, somewhere, needs blood. Blood transfusions with blood and blood products save millions of lives every year.1
They are given to patients in a wide range of circumstances, including but not limited to:
Patients who have experienced serious injury (such as from a car crash), or natural disasters
Patients undergoing a major surgical procedure, or during pregnancy
Patients with an illness that causes anemia, such as leukemia or kidney disease
Patients who are unable to make enough platelets due to illness or chemotherapy
Ensuring patients have access to safe blood and blood products is a critical component of an effective health system. It is estimated that more than 164 million blood and plasma donations are made every year worldwide.2,3,4 Before reaching patients in need, donated blood and blood products must undergo many steps to ensure its safety and quality.
All blood donors are pre-screened with a variety of questions to determine health and risk factors. Once a donor is cleared for the donation process, a unit of whole blood and several tubes of blood are collected for testing to ensure safety and quality. Whole blood donations are separated into red cells, platelets, and plasma, all of which can help patients in a variety of ways. The tubes undergo a series of tests to establish blood type and test for various transfusion-transmitted infectious diseases. If a test result is positive, the donation is discarded and the donor is notified. If the blood products are suitable for transfusion, they are labeled and stored so that they are ready to be delivered to where they are most needed.
One donation has the potential to save up to three lives.5
Emily’s life was saved after experiencing severe postpartum haemorrhage minutes after the birth of her precious daughter, Lucy. After entering an often fatal condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation, Emily received 32 units of blood - more than three times the total amount of blood in her body - in six hours. Without the gift of safe blood, Emily would not have survived. She is comforted by the fact that all the donated blood had been tested, ensuring its safety. “I've had no negative effects from the blood transfusions or from my blood loss. It's pretty amazing.”
Maintaining the supply of safe blood and plasma is a global challenge that requires extensive collaboration. In 1998, the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced measures to ensure the safety of donated blood and established a global database to address concerns about the availability, safety, and accessibility of blood for transfusion.6 Since then, there have been major developments in mass screening for transfusion-transmissible infections with the identification of new infectious agents and significant improvements in the detection of markers of infection in donated blood.7 As the need for blood donations continues while pathogens evolve and new ones emerge, there is a continuing need for investment in the development of robust innovations that address the real-world needs of transfusion centres, blood screening labs, and most importantly, patients.
When Tabitha’s son was born with five heart defects, this new mom knew there would be much to worry about over the next days, weeks and years, with multiple surgeries and talk of a heart transplant. One thing she did not worry about was the gift of safe blood from her long time co-worker and friend Debra. Debra’s blood was used during surgeries to repair little Ketch’s “special heart,” as the sweet 6-year-old boy now refers to it.
World Health Organization. Blood safety and availability.
Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association from:
Busch MP, Bloch EM, Kleinman S. Prevention of transfusion-transmitted infections. Blood. 2019 Apr 25;133(17):1854-1864.
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