Washington, DC, June 16: The Pan American
Health Organization observed World Blood Donor Day Tuesday, honoring 14 volunteers from throughout the Americas who have made
notable contributions to the promotion of voluntary, unpaid blood donations in their countries.
PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses praised the diverse group of volunteers, noting, “Thanks
to the work of these and many others, 11 countries of the Americas have reached the goal” of having 50 percent of their
blood from volunteer, unremunerated donors, setting an example for the world.
Among the winners of the awards
was Jacqueline Jonson, a former Miss North Dakota who launched a statewide awareness drive in her state, spoke to more than
60,000 people in a quarter of all North Dakota communities, and helped collect more than 5,000 blood products.
“Helping save lives has meant the most, and I hope my passion for blood donation will take root in the hearts of others,”
Judith Ostronic, an American
Red Cross volunteer who received an award for her contributions to developing new campaigns to attract Hispanic, African American
and Asian blood donors, said “Blood is a gift, but it is also a lifeline. Adequate financial resources are imperative.
Education of, and with, these communities is a must. And the opportunity to volunteer blood, time or money must be offered,
encouraged and appreciated.”
World Blood Donor Day was established
at the 58th World Health Assembly in May 2005 by WHO's 192 Member States, to urge all countries in the world to
thank blood donors, promote voluntary, unpaid blood donations and ensure safe supplies of blood for all.
Other winners from the Americas
honored today include Carl L.T. Brown of the Cayman Islands, a marketing expert who promotes blood donation; Fidaa El-Samrout
of Canada, a student in Ottawa who volunteers at Canadian Blood Services; Juan Eslaquit of Nicaragua, who volunteers at the
National Blood Center; Emilia Galvez Lopez of Chile, co-founder of Campanitas, a group of senior adult volunteers for altruistic
blood donation; Wilma Kock Alvarado of Chile, a Red Cross volunteer and president of Campanitas, which has participated in
100 mobile blood collection drives with the Ministry of Health of Chile and the Red Cross; Fernando Lopes de Melo of Brazil,
a volunteer donor who helped recruit 57,000 volunteer donors through the “More Life” project; Maria de los Angeles
Moya of Costa Rica, an 80-year-old nurse who has been a blood volunteer and promoter for 25 years; Ivan Oliveira of Suriname,
a teacher who has donated blood 56 times and recruited many students; Jaime Ospina Velasco of Colombia, a Rotary Club member
who works with Colombia’s Blood Safety Program and its National Institute of Health to promote blood donation; Ruben
Perez of Cuba, a social worker at the Hematology and Immunity Institute who has been promoting voluntary altruistic donation
for 10 years; Gwendoline Pogo of St. Lucia, a registered nurse who recruits colleagues at Sandals Grande St. Lucia to donate
blood three to four times a year; and Tessa Russomando of Uruguay, a blood donor for 30 years who helped create the Donors
Club ABN AMRO Bank in her country.
Globally, the goal of 100 percent
unpaid, voluntary blood donation is progressing slowly, falling short of ensuring the safety and the sustainability of blood
supplies. Most developing countries still depend on paid donors or family member donors. The World Health Organization
(WHO) global survey on blood collection and blood testing practices issued today shows that out of the 124 countries that
provided data, 56 saw an increase in unpaid voluntary donation. The remaining 68 have either made no progress or have
seen a decline in the number of unpaid voluntary donors. Of the 124 countries, 49 have reached 100 percent unpaid voluntary
blood donation. Out of those 49, only 17 are developing countries.
Regular, unpaid voluntary donors
are the mainstay of a safe and sustainable blood supply because they are less likely to lie about their health status and
more likely to keep themselves healthy. WHO figures show that the number of donations per 1000 population
is about 15 times greater in high-income than in low-income countries, though developing countries have an even greater need
for sustained supplies of safe blood since many conditions requiring blood transfusions - such as severe malaria-related anemia
in children or serious pregnancy complications - are still claiming over one million lives every year. About 25 percent of deaths caused by severe bleeding during delivery could be prevented
through access to safe blood.
In the area of blood testing,
56 out of 124 countries did not screen all of their donated blood for HIV, hepatitis B and C and syphilis, the survey showed,
due to scarcity of test kits, lack of infrastructure and shortage of trained staff. Of the countries surveyed,
St. Lucia made the biggest jump forward, going from 24.39 percent of collected blood coming from unpaid volunteers in 2002
to 83.05 percent in 2004. Malaysia went from 50 percent in 2002 to 99 percent in 2004 and India from
45 percent to 52 percent.
The World Health Organization
introduced the 100 percent unpaid, voluntary blood donation policy in 1997. World Blood Donor Day, an annual event on
June 14, is a day to help governments reach that target by creating awareness of the need for sustainable supplies of safe
blood. It is also a day to thank existing blood donors for the remarkable gift they make to those whose lives they have
improved or saved, and to encourage new donors to commit.
“Even though we have seen
advances in voluntary blood donation as a result of the efforts that the Member States of the Pan American Health Organization
have made in recent years, the Region of the Americas is still a long way from achieving the goal that all blood donations
be voluntary, altruistic and periodic,” said Dr. Josť Ramiro Cruz, regional advisor in Laboratory and Blood Services
at PAHO. “In the process of promoting voluntary and altruistic blood donations, we have learned many lessons.
One of them is the importance of the participation and commitment of civil society. For this reason,
the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization wants to recognize the contribution of those who support the
activities of promotion of voluntary blood donors through their efforts.”