This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Blood

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
December 10, 2018

‘Tis the season to be jolly — but not to give blood, evidently. According to the Red Cross, the number of people who give blood plummets from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.[1]

That’s alarming. Nationwide, someone needs blood every two seconds.[2] But only 10 percent of eligible people donate.[3] More need to do so. Since primary care physicians are on the front lines of public health, it’s critical that they discuss the importance of blood donations with patients.

Many patients require blood donations, including people with cancer, individuals undergoing surgical procedures, and those receiving organ transplants.[4] Victims of car accidents also frequently need blood donations — requiring as many as 100 pints.[5]

Every donation makes a difference. In fact, just one can save up to three lives.[6] In the United Kingdom, for instance, three units of blood are supplied to hospitals every single minute.[7]

Some donors can have an even bigger impact. Consider one Australian man with a unique antibody in his blood that helps fight against rhesus disease — a condition in pregnant women which harms the fetus’s blood cells.[8] Harrison has donated blood every week for the last sixty years — and saved over 2.4 million lives.[9]

People who donate blood don’t just feel good about helping others; they actually experience better health themselves. Giving blood can lower the risk of a heart attack by 88 percent, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.[10] It can reduce cancer risk as well.[11]

Unfortunately, fewer people are volunteering to donate. Relatively few Americans donate blood. On a global scale, the number of new blood donors in 21 countries dropped 30 percent between 2005 and 2015, according to a survey from the U.K.-based organization, NHS Blood and Transplant.[12]

Folks are even less likely to donate during the holidays. People are busy spending time with friends and family. And inclement weather makes it difficult to get to blood drives. Some drives are even cancelled.[13]

But we need blood every month of the year. Red blood cells only last 42 days. Platelets must be used within five days.[14]      

At St. George’s University, we’re committed to boosting blood donations. SGU students and faculty conducted a study that examined barriers toward blood donation. We subsequently partnered with the American Medical Student Association and Grenada Blood Bank to encourage donations through our “Blood for Grenada Project,” which aims to increase voluntary donations in Grenada by working to remove those barriers.[15]

Moreover, three-quarters of SGU graduates enter primary care.[16] Our graduates — and primary care docs nationwide — have an obligation to educate patients about the importance of blood donation and encourage them to consider donating.

The holiday season is all about giving — and blood donations can be the best gift of all.

For more information about blood donation, visit the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies:
















[15]    p. 41


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