WHO /O. O'Hanlon
                                ? Credits

                                Blood transfusion safety


                                  Nearly 120 million units of blood are donated every year. However, this is not sufficient to meet the global need many patients requiring a transfusion do not have timely access to safe blood. Blood cannot be stored indefinitely, meaning there is a constant need for donations. Regular donations are required to ensure there is always a supply for those in need. Despite global need, donation rates differ around the world and some high-income countries see up to seven times more donations than low-income countries. 

                                  Blood transfusions are needed for a wide range of health conditions including anaemia, complications during pregnancy and childbirth, severe trauma due to accidents, and surgical procedures. They are also regularly used for patients with conditions such as sickle cell disease and thalassaemia and for products to treat haemophilia.

                                  Maintaining safe and effective procedures around the collection, storage and use of donated blood is essential. Collectively called haemovigilance, these procedures cover the entire blood transfusion chain and are used to standardize the use of blood in healthcare. 

                                  Collection and use

                                  Donated blood is used in many ways beyond whole blood transfusions. Processing can convert it into plasma, red cell concentrates, platelet concentrates and more, with each used for specific cases in health-care delivery. In some cases, this allows a unit of donated blood to meet the needs of more than one patient and is an important aspect of the transfusion train. However, not all countries have facilities to process blood in this way, and only 50 of 173 reporting countries produce plasma-derived medicinal products domestically.

                                  The world’s blood supply comes through over 12 000 blood centres and is donated by three types of people: unpaid volunteers, family members of patients and paid donors. WHO advocates the development of national blood systems based on unpaid volunteers because that group tends to have fewer bloodborne infections. Despite this, many countries continue to receive less than half of blood donations from unpaid volunteers, with much of their blood supply dependent on family donations and paid donors. 


                                  The unavailability of timely, safe blood transfusions has led to many otherwise avoidable deaths. A consistent supply of blood is a cornerstone of any health-care system, but this relies on regular donations and effective health-care infrastructure.

                                  Huge gaps exist between low-, middle- and high-income countries regarding blood donation. Of the nearly 120 million units of blood donated each year around the world, 42% are in high-income countries, where just 16% of the global population lives. However, more young people donate in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

                                  Compounding insufficient collection rates is the inability of many health-care systems to adequately screen donated blood for diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis according to quality system requirements. The inability to test blood can be due in part to the irregular supply of testing kits, particularly in low-income areas. Inadequate testing contributes to the spread of transfusion-transmissible infections, which can compromise the patient’s wellbeing and further strain health-care systems.

                                  18.5 Million

                                  units of blood

                                  are donated every year

                                  More information


                                  All →


                                  Protecting the blood supply during infectious disease outbreaks: guidance for national blood services

                                  This guidance document has been produced by WHO to assist blood services in the development of national plans to respond to any emerging infectious threats...

                                  Developing a National Policy and Guidelines on the Clinical Use of Blood

                                  The World Health Organization Blood Transfusion Safety programme (WHO/BTS) was established to develop strategies for blood safety and promote them...

                                  Screening donated blood for transfusion-transmissible infections : recommendations

                                  This document is designed primarily to support the strengthening and improvement of blood screening programmes in countries where systems are not yet...

                                  Towards 100% voluntary blood donation: a global framework for action

                                  This global framework for action to achieve 100% voluntary blood donation has been developed jointly by the World Health Organization and the International...

                                  Blood donor selection: guidelines on assessing donor suitability for blood donation

                                  Blood transfusion services (BTS) have the responsibility to collect blood only from donors who are at low risk for any infection that could be transmitted...

                                  Establishing external quality assessment programmes for screening of donated blood for transfusion-transmissible infections: implementation guide

                                  Establishing external quality assessment programmes for screening of donated blood for transfusion-transmissible infections: implementation guide aims...

                                  A guide to establishing a national haemovigilance system

                                  The goal of haemovigilance is continuous quality improvement of the transfusion chain through corrective and preventive actions to improve donor and patient safety,...

                                  Related health topics


                                  Blood Transfusion Safety
                                  Service Delivery and Safety
                                  Health Systems and Innovation
                                  World Health Organization
                                  20 Avenue Appia
                                  1211 Geneva 27
                                  E-mail: [email protected]