Thirty years of work, sparked by the spread of HIV, has led to great improvements in blood safety and availability in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization reports that most, about 65 percent, of that new safe blood went to children under five years of age. Much of that blood also was used to save mothers during childbirth as bleeding is the leading cause of maternal deaths in developing countries.
Most of the support came from President George W. Bush’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). More than 90 percent of countries worldwide now have the ability to screen more than 90 percent of their blood donations for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. PEPFAR money is now being directed solely to AIDS prevention and treatment. Does this means the job is done and we can all relax? In reality, children and mothers die every day for lack of blood. For two-thirds of the world’s countries, blood collections fall well below the WHO minimum recommendation of one percent of the population.
What to do? One model may be the revolutionary work that has been done to make vaccines available to children in developing countries. One dose of a combination vaccine for infants in the U.S. costs around $50. A comparable vaccine, custom-tailored for developing country markets, today costs around $1.50, with sufficient supplies to ensure that every child gets a full course of immunizations. This revolution came about because of a large investment of funds from private foundations and corporations, as well as governments. What has been done for vaccines shows that such revolutions are not only necessary, but possible.
Blood may be very different from vaccines, but PEPFAR showed that even a few million dollars goes a long way in saving the lives of tens of thousands of those needing blood. Achieving the goal of making safe blood accessible and affordable around the world will require a detailed understanding of the problem, and close collaborations between governments, industry, international organizations and financiers. The International Blood Safety Forum, planned for next March in conjunction with ABC’s annual meeting, will help this dialog by bringing together experts to assess what remains to be done, and identify critical next steps leading toward solutions. Plan to join us in Arlington on March 24 and be a part of the discussion.
John Donnelly, PhD; President, Global Healing