Blood Science Foundation hopes to find solutions to blood donor shortage

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PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Every two seconds someone in the United States needs a blood transfusion, but Vitalant Pittsburgh – formerly known as the Central Blood Bank – collects only 50% of the blood needed by local health facilities. The remaining half is imported from blood centers across the country, costing more than $ 10 million per year.

The Blood Sciences Foundation hope to change that.

As a fundraising and philanthropic arm of Vitalant, the foundation has organized a series of Blood Summits aimed at raising awareness of blood shortages and answering the question of finding new local donors.

The greater Pittsburgh area has seen a sharp decline in the number of regular local blood donors, with collections dropping 50% in the past 10 years and 30% in the past five years, according to the president and chief financial officer of the Blood Science Foundation, Mark Giaquinto. The pandemic has made this situation worse.

The goals of the Blood Science Foundation are “to identify and develop a current plan and long-term strategy to increase blood donation, strengthen relationships with younger populations and communities of color to increase blood donation. blood, identify other community partners, identify champion organizations to be the ‘prime movers’ to increase donation and that can rally employee participation and create organizational partnerships to support ongoing blood donation activities ”, such as a citywide blood donation day, Giaquinto said.

Meeting facilitation is provided by The Forbes Funds, which works with community-based nonprofit organizations to increase the impact of their missionary work. Other partner organizations include 100 Black Men of Western Pennsylvania, Highmark, iHeartMedia, Dollar Bank, UPMC, local colleges and universities, and more.

Participants will meet in person or by phone or video for a conference three times over several months.

The goal of the first meeting on August 25, according to Giaquinto, was to “raise awareness among participants of the challenges of collecting enough blood across the region to sufficiently meet the demand for blood from regional hospitals and health systems.”

The second meeting on October 12 included a brainstorming workshop facilitated by the Forbes Funds. The third meeting will take place in December or early next year and will include a presentation of the action plan proposed by Vitalant.

Giaquinto explained that Pittsburgh uses more blood than other cities of similar size due to its renowned healthcare system, which attracts and treats patients from all over the world, especially for organ transplants.

“Vitalant is the primary blood supplier to 50 Pittsburgh area hospitals, including north of Meadville, west in Ohio, east in Westmoreland County and south in West Virginia, including all the facilities of the Allegheny health network and the UPMC, ”he said. “The blood collected, tested and distributed by Vitalant is used every day in our healthcare systems to save countless lives, carry out emergency interventions, make organ transplants possible and treat patients with rare blood diseases and cancer.

Part of the drop in blood donation can be attributed to the aging population of Steel City, one of the largest in the country.

“Traditionally, one of the most loyal groups of blood donors has been the baby boomer generation, who have gone from loyal blood donors to blood users (patients) in recent years,” Giaquinto said. . “The younger generations do not fulfill this role of blood donors, which leads to a shortage. “

Younger people have also been hit hard by increased FDA regulations on who can donate blood. Anyone who has recently received a tattoo, for example, cannot donate within three months to get a tattoo if they received their tattoo in DC, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, or Wyoming – states that do not regulate tattoo facilities. The The FDA also bans gay and bisexual men from donating blood within three months of having sexual contact with another man, even if the relationship is monogamous.

Only about 40% of the US population is eligible to donate blood, and less than 10% actually do so. The pandemic has also had a lasting impact on blood donation.

“Mobile blood drives traditionally represent 60% of total blood drives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, students and employees have switched to distance learning / working, which has reduced the mobile blood drives traditionally held by schools and businesses, ”said Giaquinto.

As a result of these factors, the total donation of blood decreased by 9% in 2020 compared to 2019.

“There are many reasons why a person cannot or does not want to donate blood,” Giaquinto said. “The Blood Science Foundation offers these people another way to give back by accepting monetary donations. “

The Blood Science Foundation also funded several initiatives throughout the pandemic, including the free antibody test Vitalant offered to all blood donors between June and December 2020. It has also funded local collection of convalescent plasma – which uses blood from people who have recovered from illness to help others get better, too – as well as renovations to Vitalant’s community donor centers in response to changing FDA guidelines related to COVID-19.


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