The Gift that Keeps on Giving

January is Blood Donor Month. Have you given yet?

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Have you saved a life this month? It's not too late. January is Blood Donor Month, so find your local donation center, hold out your arm and look the other direction.

What Does it Take?

A study at Case Western Reserve University is looking into which incentives, if any, work in increasing blood donations. There is generally a shortage of donated blood in the United States with only eight percent who donate among an estimated 38 percent of Americans who are eligible.

Nicola Lacetera, assistant professor of economics at the Case Western's Weatherhead School of Management, said the demand for blood doesn't match supply, in spite of extensive campaigns from the like the of the American Red Cross and other organizations. The biggest "draw" for blood drives continues to be natural or national disasters, such as the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti or the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she said. But need for blood supplies remain high, even in the absence of a recent calamity or tragedy.

Knowing that, Lacetera and researchers are analyzing data involving more than 14,000 blood drives in northern Ohio to determine whether incentives actually increase donations. The researchers speculate and some data suggests gifts such as T-shirts, lapel pins, coupons and gift cards may play a small role in increasing blood donations.

Some countries, such as Italy, offer a day off of work to donate. While that benefit is unlikely in America, data shows small gifts do increase turnout.

The study is being funded by the National Science Foundation thanks to funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Discrimination or Needed Precaution?

Meanwhile AIDS research pioneers Dr. Mark Wainberg and Dr. Norbert Gilmore are calling for a policy change in the United States, Canada and other industrialized nations that currently disallow gay men (or MSM -- men who have sex with men) to donate blood. While this move was necessary and ethical throughout the 1980s, the researchers say a total ban prevents needed blood from being donated and is no longer necessary because of screening and ability to test donated blood has improved.

While many people were infected with HIV from blood transfusions in the 1980s, the measure "no longer makes sense," said Wainberg, who heads the HIV research program at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research (LDI) at the Jewish General Hospital. He said the ban is discriminatory and isn't justified by science.

Wainberg was one of the co-discoverers of 3TC, one of the first drugs known to control HIV.

Wainberg and Gilmore advocate for gay men who are in long-term, monogamous relationships to donate blood while continuing the ban on gay and bisexual men who have multiple sex partners.

Trust Issues

For others, particularly some African-Americans, donating blood requires a leap of faith. A recent study from the New York Blood Center in Manhattan found that African-Americans donate blood at lower rates than whites because of significant distrust in the healthcare system.

A total of 930 people responded to a survey administered throughout 15 African-American churches in metropolitan Atlanta. Researchers found that about 17 percent or 1 in 5 African-Americans do not trust hospitals. The lack of trust correlated with a refusal to donate blood.

Conversely, participants who did trust hospitals feared donation less and were more likely to respond to blood needs throughout the community.

Review Date: 
January 17, 2011