donor

“Thank you for saving my life.”

That’s the theme of World Blood Donation Day today, which focuses on the power donors have to help those they may not know.

Many recipients are actually too young to thank those who have donated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 65 percent of blood transfusions in low-income countries are given to children younger than 5 years old.

Another group that needs safe donated blood is new mothers. Globally, about 800 women die every day from complications of pregnancy or giving birth. Donated blood can help save their lives. 

“Safe blood transfusion is one of the key life-saving interventions that should be available for patients in need,” Edward Kelley, M.D., Ph.D., director of service delivery and safety at WHO, said in a statement. “Yet, equitable access to safe blood still remains a major challenge in many countries.” 

Read More: Should You Store or Donate Your Child’s Umbilical Cord Blood? »

Voluntary Donors Needed

Worldwide, 108 million blood donations occur annually. Of those, half come from high-income countries, such as the United States. To maintain a reliable supply of blood, the WHO recommends an increase of voluntary and unpaid donors because they have the lowest rate of bloodborne infections. 

While voluntary donations are increasing in 72 countries, more than half of all donated blood comes from paid or family donors. 

In the United States, 9.2 million donors give 15.7 million blood donations each year.

blood donor

This may seem like a lot, but according to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. Their estimates say while 38 percent of Americans are eligible to donate blood, less than 10 percent of them actually do.

According to the National Blood Collection and Utilization Survey Report, blood donation in the United States peaked in 2008 with 17.3 million units before falling to 15.7 million units in 2011. 

More than half of the U.S. donated blood comes from regular, unpaid donors.

Read More: Can Blood Transfusions Lead to Allergies in Children? »

Lifting Restrictions to Increase Donor Base

The Red Cross says the two most common reasons people don’t donate blood are that they never considered it and they don’t like needles.

But there are many reasons why people are not allowed to donate blood, including not being healthy enough and having their donations restricted for various reasons. But many of those restrictions are changing. 

Since 1983 — at the height of the AIDS epidemic — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t accepted donated blood from men who have sex with other men because the group is “at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B, and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.” This lifelong ban applied to any man who has had sex with any other man, even once, dating back to 1977. 

In May, the FDA published a draft guidance to end the lifetime ban but deferred donors who had sex with a man in the past 12 months. The policy is in line with ones major blood banking organizations have had since 2000.

Another restriction fell upon people who had fresh tattoos. Previously, they had to wait 12 months after receiving their tattoos. Considering this age group is responsible for roughly half of all donated blood globally and 40 percent of people ages 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo, this greatly reduced people’s ability to donate.

In May, the Blood Centers of the Pacific — which turned down 600 donors in 2014 because of tattoos — announced as long as the tattoos were done in state-regulated parlors, the restrictions no longer apply. 

“For decades now the pool of eligible blood donors has been reduced due to myriad restrictions, all with the safety of the blood supply in mind,” spokesman Kent Corley said in a press release. “Allowing individuals who receive tattoos in California to donate blood without having to wait an entire year is one real bit of good news for the blood supply and for Blood Centers of the Pacific.” 

The Red Cross, which collects 40 percent of all blood in the United States, hosts blood drives all over the nation. Visit RedCrossBlood.org to find the nearest place you can donate blood.

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