The tremendous impact of blood donation on saving the lives of many individuals around the globe cannot be overstated. Therefore, it is not surprising that many people have recognised the importance of donating blood as a great way to give back to the community. The ongoing effort to educate and raise public awareness on blood donation and the shortage of blood supply is indeed a positive thing.

Nevertheless, there are certain matters pertaining to the issue of blood donation that need to be highlighted, based on recent development and research findings.

When it comes to blood supply, fresher is not always better

In a landmark trial involving 5,000 critically ill patients from five countries, it was shown that older stored blood is just as good and safe as new, fresh blood supplies. These findings challenge the widespread, long-held belief that freshly donated blood is best for blood transfusion.

According to Professor Jamie Cooper, Director of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre, previous research that indicated older blood was associated with poorer patient outcomes, were not done in large randomized control trials.

"The findings of our trial confirm that the current duration of storage of red blood cells for transfusion is both safe and optimal,” said Professor Cooper.

In the new TRANSFUSE trial, researchers compared the survival outcomes and reactions between patients who received the freshest and oldest blood in their transfusions. The results revealed no significant difference in the survival rates at 90 days between the two groups of patients.

Additionally, less transfusion reactions – such as fever – occurred with older blood transfusions.

“Our study shows these practices [requesting newer blood for specific patients] are not required and are potentially counter-productive,” explained Professor Cooper.

Increasing the frequency of donation to meet the demand for blood

It is reported that the demand for blood has been rising, particularly in Malaysia and Singapore. This increase is largely due to the ageing population, along with a drop in the number of regular donors. Guidelines also state that men should only give blood every 12 weeks, and women every 16 weeks. This might be due to the belief that frequent blood donation could negatively impact health.

However, it has been recently suggested that frequent blood donation would not have a negative impact on donor’s health, according to a study conducted by a team of researchers from Cambridge and Oxford Universities and NHS Blood and Transplant.

The study spanned over a period of two years, involving 45,000 individuals. Blood donors were randomly assigned to three different groups based on the frequency of donation: at 8-, 10- and 12-week intervals for men, and groups of those donating blood at 12-, 14- and 16-week intervals for women.

The outcome showed that more blood could be collected following the shorter intervals of giving blood especially in individuals who weighed above average and those with higher levels of haemoglobin.

Other than minor symptoms such as tiredness and restless legs, no major impact on the quality of life, mental function or physical activity of the donors were observed in those giving blood at the shorter intervals.

Tackling the problem with the help of technology

The shortage in blood supply has apparently led to another serious problem – the illegal black market for blood donation. This consequently fuels the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C due to the lack of equipment for screening as well as weak measures to address the issue. This is particularly prominent in India, discouraging individuals from donating blood.

The dire situation has prompted Kiran Verma, to develop a mobile application named “Simply Blood” to help connect voluntary blood donors to suitable recipients. The app, which Verma claims to be the world’s first virtual blood donation platform, provides donors with information about the nearest location to donate their blood.

This may just be the start of many other future endeavours to address the issue of blood supply shortage and increase the safety of the already vulnerable blood recipients. The birth of a mobile app such as “Simply Blood” sends out an important message – that in today’s world, technology may hold the key to attract more potential donors, ease the blood donation process and ultimately be a major part of the solution for the scarcity in blood supply. MIMS

Read more:
World Blood Donor Day 2017: Situation in Malaysia and Singapore
Blood supply shortage: Encourage blood donation by educating youngsters
Seeking greater awareness on blood donations in Singapore