Supply of Safe Blood Can Help Combat HIV/AIDS Epidemic

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With the world's fastest-growing rates of HIV infection and AIDS, the WHO European Region faces considerable risk of transmission of HIV through blood transfusion. The problem affects countries throughout the Region, but the situation is worst in a number of central and eastern countries. They face common barriers to achieving a safe blood supply, such as the lack of appropriate regulatory frameworks, technology and means to recruit voluntary, unpaid donors.

The prevalence of HIV in blood donations varies dramatically from east to west in the Region. Units of donated blood are discarded if they test positive for the virus; according to the European Centre for the Epidemiological Monitoring of AIDS (EuroHIV), the estimated average of discarded donations is 1.3 per 100 000 units in western countries, leans towards 2-10 per 100 000 in central European countries and ranges from 30 to 90 per 100 000 in the Commonwealth of Independent States. The problem is particularly acute in the countries where paid, rather than voluntary, non-remunerated, blood donors are the main source of the blood supply.

Need for voluntary, unpaid blood donors

Safe blood begins with safe donors. Despite improvements, efforts to recruit voluntary, unpaid donors remain insufficient.

Screening for infections transmissible through transfusion is essential, but the safest donations come from the safest donors. Evidence from around the world shows that voluntary, unpaid donors are the foundation of a safe blood supply because they are the least likely to transmit potentially life-threatening infections, such as HIV and hepatitis. Payment for blood donations in cash or in kind can affect the reliability of the donor selection process, which should be determined first and foremost by the health status of the potential donors. Only 40 countries in the world have achieved 100% voluntary blood donation.

No more than 26 of the 52 WHO European Member States have national programmes for voluntary blood donation. An additional 17 are developing such programmes, and 4 countries report that they have only a few regular voluntary donors.

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Progress has been made, but, according to the latest data, too many countries in the Region still depend on donations from the families or friends of patients who need blood. More than 20 countries report that such donations are the main source of their blood supplies.

Recruiting voluntary donors remains a major problem. In all, 23 countries in the Region report that they have no dedicated personnel to promote voluntary donation and recruit donors. While 40 countries indicate that information on blood donation and transfusion is available to the public, most of them have no capacity for its dissemination.

Celebrating the voluntary gift of blood on World Blood Donor Day

To place the issue of safe blood on political agendas and highlight the role of voluntary, unpaid donors as the foundation of a safe supply, several major health organizations set 14 June as the date of the annual World Blood Donor Day. The World Health Assembly endorsed the establishment of the Day in resolution WHA58.13. The celebration is an important part of the strategy to reduce transfusion-transmitted infections.

"World Blood Donor Day will remind those in charge that continuing campaigns to educate and recruit voluntary donors are needed to ensure an adequate and safe blood supply. It is not enough to focus on these issues just for one day; this task needs sustained efforts and system building," says Dr Nata Menabde, Director of the Division of Country Support at the WHO Regional Office for Europe. "It is a good opportunity for the international community to reflect on the value of voluntary, unpaid blood donors. Their donations are a gift of life. They are beyond price."

Four major organizations have joined hands to make World Blood Donor Day a global campaign: the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation of Blood Donor Organizations, the International Society of Blood Transfusion and WHO. Between them, they represent 192 Member States, 50 national voluntary donors' organizations and many transfusion specialists throughout the world. The slogan of the 2005 campaign is "World Blood Donor Day: celebrating your gift of blood."

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World Health Organization - Regional Office for Europe - http://www.euro.who.int/

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