Every year on 14 June, countries around the world celebrate World Blood Donor Day (WBDD). The event, established in 2004, serves to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products, and to thank blood donors for their voluntary, life-saving gifts of blood.
World Blood Donor Day is one of eight official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organisation(WHO), along with World Health Day, World Tuberculosis Day, World Immunisation Week, World Malaria Day, World No Tobacco Day, World Hepatitis Day, and World AIDS Day.
Transfusion of blood and blood products helps save millions of lives every year. It can help patients suffering from life-threatening conditions live longer and with higher quality of life, and supports complex medical and surgical procedures. It also has an essential, life-saving role in maternal and perinatal care. Access to safe and sufficient blood and blood products can help reduce rates of death and disability due to severe bleeding during delivery and after childbirth.
In many countries, there is not an adequate supply of safe blood, and blood services face the challenge of making sufficient blood available, while also ensuring its quality and safety.
An adequate supply can only be assured through regular donations by voluntary unpaid blood donors. The WHO’s goal is for all countries to obtain all their blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors by 2020. In 2014, 60 countries have their national blood supplies based on 99-100% voluntary unpaid blood donations, with 73 countries still largely dependent on family and paid donors.
As someone who is O negative — the blood type most often requested by hospitals — I have made dozens of donations. Type O is always in demand and in great supply because it can be transfused to patients of all blood types, according to the American Red Cross. While approximately 38 percent of the U.S. population is also eligible to donate, only 10 percent actually do. Enter World Blood Donor Day.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) holds the campaign every year on June 14 to “thank blood donors for their life-saving gift of blood,” as well as to raise awareness surrounding the need for regular donation. Someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds, which adds up to roughly 36,000 units of red blood cells every day. While nearly 7 million Americans will volunteer each year, the unavailability of blood still leads to deaths and many patients suffering from ill health, WHO reported. And in 2011, WHO found that national blood supplies were based on 100% or almost 100% voluntary unpaid blood donations in 62 countries.
CHECK TO SEE IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE
Blood banks may be in high demand for blood, but they won’t take just anyone. Most states require individuals be at least 17 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds — if not, they could be turned away. People may also be ineligible if they recently got a tattoo, travel out of the United States, have risky sex, low blood pressure, or anemia. In the case of the latter, the person drawing your blood will prick your finger to ensure iron levels are high enough for a safe donation. Many gay, bisexual, and transgender man are still prohibited from donating blood despite the FDA’s repeal of a 30-year lifetime ban, as well. Though if you can’t donate for something you can’t necessarily control, like anemia, a financial donation can be equally helpful.
MAINTAIN IRON LEVELS
If you’re an eligible donor, search for the nearest donation center through the Red Cross. Bring a government-issued ID with you, like a drivers license, passport, or birth certificate; a list of the medications you’re currently taking; and be sure to eat a meal that’s low in fat and high in iron an hour before you’re set to give blood. White or wheat bread, non-fat yogurt, eggs, spinach, and bananas are all good foods to choose from. It’s important to have your blood flowing at top caliber; high iron levels keep you alert and less at risk for fainting. But just in case, ask a friend or family member to go with you so you don’t have to worry about driving home afterwards.
DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS
Your blood will undergo more than a dozen tests to screen for any diseases or abnormalities. If something is found, the blood is discarded and the donor is contacted. But when you leave the actual day of donation, avoid arduous exercise or heavy lifting and remember to drink plenty of fluids. It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, as they dehydrate the body. And if you were able to conquer your fear and, dare we say, enjoy the experience, don’t rush to make another appointment. You’ll have to wait at least eight weeks between donations, sometimes longer depending upon your weight and health. Generally speaking, those training for marathons or other intensive activities should wait until after the race.