Thank you for saving my life

Roberto is a One Young World Ambassador from Mexico who is passionate about sustainable solutions to healthcare issues. Another main area of his work is tackling Non-Communicable Diseases through the lowering of preventable risk factors and promotion of healthy lifestyles with community-based approaches. 

A couple of years ago I remember meeting a person who received a blood transfusion from one of my donations. Her exacts words were “thank you for saving my life”. I was really moved by her message of gratitude and realised the importance of donating blood and the impact that such a simple act can have on someone else's life.

It is well known that sustainable and quality blood services play a critical role in the health of any society. Blood is used for a multitude of life saving purposes including assisting patients undergoing surgery; treating diseases including anaemia and malaria; caring for patients on chemotherapy; supporting women with complications during childbirth (postpartum haemorrhage) and patients on Antiretroviral treatments.

Everyday all around the world millions of blood units are needed in order to provide adequate health care services to citizens, resulting in a complicated issue not only for the patients but also for their relatives and friends. The worst part of this situation is when people die due to avoidable blood shortages, but sadly this is a very common occurrence.

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According to the World Health Organization, 40 countries (including my native Mexico) are dependent on replacement blood donors or even paid ones. In these kinds of donations, health systems force patients to present a certificate showing that their friends or relatives have donated blood on their behalf; otherwise the patient cannot receive the treatment, procedure or care that they need. Depending on the stock of blood of the hospital, some health centres will provide blood when the patients need it and will require them to replace the blood that they have received. This exchange system represents very high risks for people’s lives, because as the blood banks do not have a regular safe supply of blood, they could run out of blood. This exposing patients to the danger of not receiving a blood transfusion when they need it.

But, what can be done to increase the proportion of voluntary blood donors? Different strategies have been adopted worldwide to raise awareness of such important topic. For example, extramural collections (blood drives) have proven to be a key strategy to increase the collection of voluntary blood donations. In Nicaragua, a country with 100% rate of voluntary blood donation, nearly 80% of blood units are collected through blood drives in places where people regularly gather, like businesses, universities, churches and open public spaces.

In another example, the American Red Cross and IDEO found out that, as a good way to increase the availability of blood, they needed to focus on the donor and the donor experience rather than on the process. Another way that has attracted considerable attention has been the celebration of World Blood Donor Day. World Blood Donor Day, celebrated on 14th of June, has represented a great opportunity to highlight the life-saving role of voluntary blood donors around the globe. According to the World Health Organization, the theme of this year’s campaign is “Thank you for saving my life”. The campaign aims to share stories from people whose lives have been saved thanks to blood donors, as a way of reinforcing the motivation and commitment of voluntary blood donors to continue saving lives.

The world requires us to do something to change the sad reality that many of our citizens are facing due to the lack of blood donors. Young people are the target group that we encourage to voluntarily donate blood, so for this year’s World Blood Donor Day we should push forward a worldwide celebration for all the committed blood donors around the globe. We must actively encourage global health leaders, decision makers and authorities to work towards 100% of voluntary blood donations. Providing adequate safe blood for transfusion is an essential service for universal health coverage and can help to save millions of lives and improve the health of people in need. Worldwide there should be a shift in the idea of donating blood voluntarily, in order to have safe blood waiting for the patient who needs it, and not the patient waiting for blood to save his or her life.