The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that global blood donations must rise quickly in order to ensure a reliable supply of safe blood.

In many countries demand exceeds supply, which puts considerable strain on medical services to not only make sure blood is available but to also guarantee its quality and safety. Currently, almost 50% of donations are collected in high-income countries, which make up less than 20% of the world’s population.

The WHO emphasized the preference for regular voluntary unpaid blood donors, in a statement underlining their importance as “the foundation of a safe blood supply because they are associated with low levels of infection that can be transmitted by transfusions, including HIV and hepatitis viruses.” 

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The call for more donors comes on the eve of the World Blood Donor Day, with a global event taking place in Amsterdam tomorrow (June 14th). “Voluntary, unpaid blood donation is the act of giving life – the greatest gift any person can give or receive,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan.

However, not everyone in the U.S. can donate blood. In light of the tragic shooting in Orlando, many have questioned the FDA guidance which bans the donation of blood for gay and bisexual men who have had a sexual encounter with another man in the last 12 months. The guidance for men who have sex with men (MSM) was updated as recently as last December. Before that update, the policy since 1983 was to indefinitely defer MSM from donating.

As hundreds lined the streets of Orlando yesterday to donate blood to the victims, rumor had circulated that the 12 month ban for MSM was lifted. Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan even told CNN, “They lifted the ban on gay men giving blood yesterday [June 12th].”

The donation center, OneBlood, answered the speculation by releasing a statement denying any such lifting of a ban, it read, “There are false reports circulating that some FDA rules were being lifted regarding blood donation and this is simply not true. The blood center is mandated to follow all guidelines for blood donation at all times.”

Currently, blood donations in the U.S. undergo rigid testing for infectious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis and syphilis. According to the National Institutes of Health, the risk of HIV transmission through blood transfusion is about 1 in 1.5-2 million blood units.

“The 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time,” said Peter Marks MD, PhD, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, last December at the release of the new guidance. “We will continue to actively conduct research in this area and further revise our policies as new data emerge.” 

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