Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. This is equivalent to 36,000 units of red blood cells every day. In order to meet hospital’s need for blood, American Red Cross, who is the source of about 40% of all the U.S.’s blood supply, must collect approximately 17,000 blood donations every day from volunteer donors.
In 2017, the Red Cross saw fewer blood donations across the U.S. than in the past. The donation of blood dipped so low that on July 5, 2017, the Red Cross announced that it was 61,000 donors short of their immediate need. Fresh blood can only be stored for six weeks and can't be frozen for later use. Therefore, there is an ongoing demand that never slows down for the precious fluid.
The Importance of Diversity in Blood Donation
The demographics of the U.S. population is continuously evolving to become more diverse both racially and ethnically. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2060, the U.S. will be a “majority-minority” country with over 56% of the country’s population consisting of minorities. This shift in the population has direct implications for blood donation and transfusion practices, as ethnic groups have varying frequencies of blood types. When blood is phenotypically matched (meaning a close blood type match between the donor and the recipient), the risk of complications is reduced. The ethnicity of the donor and recipient are highly important components in achieving the closest possible phenotypical match.
Therefore, there’s an increased demand for diversity amongst blood donors to help ensure there's a consistent supply of blood that is racially and ethnically diverse. Nurses and doctors can play a key role in developing and implementing strategies to heighten the awareness of the need for diversity of blood donors. This will help ensure that donations match the needs of recipients daily and in case of a public health emergency.
Factors Influencing Blood Donation
In order to ensure a safe and consistent supply of blood, the World Health Organization recommends that all blood donors should be on a volunteer basis to help keep the prevalence of blood borne diseases and infections low. While studies show that an estimated 38% of the U.S. population is qualified and eligible to donate their blood, less than 10% volunteer to donate annually. In order for nurses and healthcare professionals to promote blood donation, it's important for them to understand the potential factors that influence potential donors.
The top reasons for blood donations amongst regular donors include altruism, the need for blood from family or friends, or simply personal satisfaction. In addition, the reasons cited by those who don't donate are they are unaware of the demand for donated blood, fear of needles, religious reasons, mistrust or perceived ineligibility.
How Healthcare Professionals Can Influence Blood Donation
Healthcare professionals possess unique skills and opportunities to engage in strategies to help promote blood donation and a safe blood supply. There is a dire need for the general population to be informed and educated about the need for blood donation. Persons with a career in healthcare are uniquely positioned as well-trusted and knowledgeable, and can help increase the public’s understanding and awareness of the need for diverse blood donors. Their attitudes can directly influence the behaviors of blood donors and ultimately their willingness to donate.
Healthcare professionals can also turn to their community of colleagues to work collaboratively to increase the public's awareness of the need for donations from diverse groups.
In addition, healthcare professionals, especially nurses, can volunteer their time, knowledge and skill set to help organizations that collect and distribute blood. For more information about blood donation volunteering, check out the Red Cross website.
January is National Blood Donor Month
In 1970, January was declared as the National Blood Donor Month as it's the month which presents the most challenges in recruiting volunteers to donate blood. While the Red Cross needs blood every other month of the year, too, there is a high need during the winter months. With winter weather, busy post-holiday schedules and increases in colds and flu, the levels of blood donations typically drop.
Visit redcrossblood.org to learn more about National Blood Donor Month or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to find out where you can give blood near you.