Every year, in June, the World Health Organisation celebrates World Blood Donor Day with the aim of highlighting the need of ensuring a reliable supply of safe blood for patients whose lives would depend on it.

Blood saves lives. It supports complex medical and surgical procedures and can help patients suffering from life-threatening conditions to live longer and with enjoying a better quality of life.

Of course, the importance of donating blood cannot be a one-day effort, and we say this without in any way diminishing the significance of the WHO event which, at least once a year, brings to our attention a reality that most of us know of but often fail to do anything about. Blood donation must be a year-round initiative also because, as this year’s World Blood Donor Day slogan said, blood connects us all.

Thanks God, there are many generous people in this world who come forward to donate blood, in many cases repeatedly. According to WHO, 108 million blood donations are made annually, half of which in high-income countries. In 62 countries, 100 per cent of their blood supply comes from voluntary, unpaid blood donors.

At first glance, the statistics could lead one to think the steady flow of blood donations is enough to meet the demand. Yet, the truth is that, in most countries, demand exceeds supply and blood services face the challenge of making sufficient blood available while ensuring its quality and safety. The demand will continue to rise, in parallel with increased longevity and more successful health services.

In fact, WHO says that blood donations have to be increased rapidly in more than half of the world’s countries in order to ensure a reliable supply for patients whose lives depend on it. The unavailability of blood can, of course, lead to deaths and many patients suffering from ill health.

An adequate blood supply, to meet daily demand and also emergencies, be they accidents or national calamities, such as the earthquake in nearby Italy, can only be guaranteed through regular donations by voluntary blood donors.

In Malta, the National Blood Transfusion Unit constantly reminds us of the need for blood. The latest drive for donations was in the form of the #missingtype campaign. This was launched last year by the national health service in the UK and saw companies around the world dropping their As, Bs, and Os from their logos.

The campaign – which aims to encourage those who have never donated blood before to sign up as donors – is still trending on social media worldwide and was also picked up by a number of local companies.

The Maltese have always been very generous in donating blood. There are at least 50,000 registered donors, including about 10,000 who do so at least once a year. This translates in something like 18,000 transfusions a year, benefiting about 4,500 patients.

The daily demand is 50 bags but this is rising as a result of the success in treating certain diseases and also more surgical operations being held. The National Blood Transfusion Unit – situated adjacent to St Luke’s Hospital in Guardamangia and open Mondays to Sundays from 8am to 6pm – has just launched an appeal for B positive, O negative and A negative blood types.

There is no financial remuneration in donating blood. But donating blood is such an enriching experience, apart from being a noble gesture.

It is a sure way of showing, even if just to yourself, that you care for others.

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