Don’t wait until disaster strikes. What can you do? Give blood. Give now. Give often.
That’s this year’s theme for World Blood Donor Day. Sponsored by the World Health Organization each year, World Blood Donor Day is celebrated June 14 acknowledges the millions of men and women who roll up their sleeves to give the lifesaving gift of blood. This year’s campaign will focus on the need for blood donations in emergencies.
“The lives and health of millions of people are affected by emergencies every year,” the WHO’s event announcement reads. “In the last decade, disasters have caused more than 1 million deaths, with more than 250 million people being affected by emergencies every year.”
Celebrated on the birth date of Karl Landsteiner, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the ABO blood group system, World Blood Donor Day made its debut in 2005. Since then, the day has served as a way to raise awareness about the need for blood and blood products and to honor those who voluntarily donate blood on a regular basis.
According to the WHO, 62 countries collect 100 percent of their blood supply from voluntary, unpaid donors and 108 million blood donations are collected globally. As one of four national blood collection agencies in the United States, the Armed Services Blood Program collects blood to support our warriors and their beneficiaries and works with civilian agencies in times of need. The military blood program also supports emergency events such as natural disasters.
Blood collection and transfusion is a vital component to emergency health care. According to the WHO, “natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and storms create considerable needs for emergency health care, while at the same time, often destroying vital health facilities as well.”
In October 2016, the ASBP supported relief efforts aimed at Hurricane Matthew. A significant number of frozen red blood cells units were prepared for shipment to the United States Navy hospital ship, the Comfort, as it set sail to assist in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
According to Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, the tremendous undertaking to provide the requested units was the result of a collaborative effort by military blood components of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
“As a joint blood program, our components are designed to react quickly and efficiently as the need arises,” Fahie said. “We are very proud that we are able to help those in need in the face of an urgent crisis.”
The WHO also pointed out that “man-made disasters such as armed conflicts also generate substantial health care demands and the need for frontline treatment.”
Established in 1962, the ASBP is the sole blood provider for the U.S. military and now operates more than 20 blood donor centers worldwide. The program’s main goal is to provide blood and blood products to ill or injured service members and their families worldwide — whether it’s on the battlefield overseas or a military treatment facility in the U.S.
“The military is a very fluid organization. We do a lot around the world,” Fahie said. “We have to make sure that we are able to support blood needs at locations all over the globe and respond often times very quickly. Therefore, we must continue to learn from our transfusion practices of the past, support and evaluate our needs now, and plan for the transfusion needs of our warriors and beneficiaries for the future.”
This year’s World Blood Donor Day campaign also aims to “engage authorities in the establishment of effective national blood donor programs with the capacity to respond promptly to the increase in blood demand during emergencies.”
According to Fahie, that’s something the military blood program has been doing since 2007 as part of the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, part of the Combatant Command’s Security Cooperation Programs. As part of the Department of Defense’s overall global engagement mission, the ASBP works to provide technical support to help build capacity in developing and partner countries to bridge gaps between the military and the national programs.
“Our mission and outreach are not only to help our service members, but also to make sure, especially if we are partnering with another country and helping them develop infrastructure, that they can meet international safety standards and help their people — and even our people — if we get hurt,” Fahie said. “We have assisted several countries with developing national standards for blood safety, and now we are looking at how we are going to implement those standards throughout the country.”
Of all of the World Blood Donor Day objectives, perhaps the most important one is the need to build a “wider public awareness of the need for committed, year-round blood donation.”
Blood and blood products cannot be stored indefinitely and cannot be manufactured. Red blood cells must be transfused between 35 and 42 days after collection. Platelets have an even shorter shelf life and must be transfused within five days of collection. Therefore, regular donors are vital to the success of any blood collection program.
“Because blood may be needed at any time, it must be collected regularly. No one expects to need blood; however, if it is not available when the need arises, the consequences can be fatal,” Fahie said. “When you think about the idea that 40 or more units may be needed for a single trauma victim or that a single unit of blood can sustain a premature infant’s life for two weeks, it makes the decision to roll up your sleeve pretty easy. We hear all the time that there is no better feeling than saving a life, but only about five percent of eligible donors actually donate. That is why regular donors are so important in ensuring blood is available year-round.”
In celebration of World Blood Donor Day, the ASBP extends a warm thank you to its blood donors from around the world, and asks you to help celebrate by giving blood at one of our 22 blood donor centers.
“Right now, we supply blood and blood products for approximately 1.3 million service members and their families across the nation and around the globe every year,” Fahie said. “That means we have a constant need for blood and for blood donors. Without donors, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
About the Armed Services Blood Program
Since 1962, the Armed Services Blood Program has served as the sole provider of blood for the United States military. As a tri-service organization, the ASBP collects, processes, stores and distributes blood and blood products to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and their families worldwide. As one of four national blood collection organizations trusted to ensure the nation has a safe, potent blood supply, the ASBP works closely with our civilian counterparts by sharing donors on military installations where there are no military blood collection centers and by sharing blood products in times of need to maximize availability of this national treasure. To find out more about the ASBP or to schedule an appointment to donate, please visit www.militaryblood.dod.mil. To interact directly with ASBP staff members, see more photos or get the latest news, follow @militaryblood on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest. Find the drop. Donate.
The Armed Services Blood Program is a proud recipient of the Army Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware Public Affairs award for journalism.