Blood donations steady but challenges remain

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service has praised blood donors who rallied to boost donations after faulty testing equipment left 90,000 donors in limbo over their ability to donate.

The IBTS has warned that the struggle to retain donors and attract new ones is ongoing and faces new challenges all the time.

Just 3% of people eligible to give blood make donations yet 25% of the population will need a blood donor at some stage in their life.

Dr William Murphy, IBTS medical and scientific director, said the zika epidemic that appeared last year was just one in many new diseases that now had to be monitored, with prospective donors having to be asked to postpone their donation if they have travelled in certain areas.

“Travel abroad is a major reason why donors are deferred. Insect-born virus diseases acquired when travelling, even within Europe or the USA, are a concern, since these can be readily transmitted from donor to blood transfusion recipient, even when the donor feels well and healthy,” Dr Murphy says in the service’s annual report.

The report also refers to the IBTS discovery late last year that hi-tech testing equipment it introduced in 2014 to check iron levels in donors was faulty and had cleared many people to donate when their iron levels were far below the required level.

Chairman Anthony Staines said the discovery had been a “bad shock” and the knock-on effect of having to ask many donors to defer their donations for a period of time had continued well into this year.

“So far, the response to our needs, both from our existing donors, new donors and lapsed donors has been magnificent,” he said.

The problem arose when the old finger-prick blood test was replaced with a device that measured iron levels using light beamed through the tissues of the fingertip. The IBTS has since reverted to the older test and has no plans to try out the light device again.

Almost 80,000 donors provided more than 132,000 units of blood last year, 803 fewer donors than the previous year.

More men than women donated — 56% were male — but expectant mothers and women who have given birth in the previous year are not permitted to donate.


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