Blood supplies squeezed by coronavirus crisis

Several countries across Europe have experienced significant drops in the number of blood donations since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, raising fears that blood supplies could be at risk.

Large blood drives usually take place at universities and in corporate offices. But with these shuttered, its up to regular donors to keep their appointments.

Classed as an essential service, blood donation services across Europe have been urging donors to continue to travel to donation sites, even when their countries have implemented strict lockdown measures. There have been no reports of transmission of the virus through blood — which these services are at pains to point out.

However, in the U.K., blood donations were 15 percent lower than expected in mid-March. That resulted in the service having to reassure donors that its implementing extra safety measures.

In Bulgaria, the health ministry said that its “alarmed by the significant drop” in blood donors. And in Italy, after a drop in blood donations in some regions in early March, Italians were urged not to forget that patients still needed transfusions.

In Ireland, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn took to Twitter to remind people that 3,000 blood donations were needed every week in the country. “The availability of this blood for transfusion is vital to the daily treatment of patients in our hospitals,” he said.

Less blood, but less demand

In the U.S., the American Red Cross has warned it faces a “severe blood shortage,” and that the shortage could impact patients in desperate need of blood. However, in Europe, the drop in donations has yet to hit patients.

As yet, there have been no reports of disruptions to the supply of blood or blood components, said Catherine Hartmann, executive director at the European Blood Alliance.

“Donations are down, but the demand from hospitals is also very much down, because hospitals are putting off elective surgery,” said Hartmann. “So basically everything that can be postponed is postponed at the moment in most countries.”

There is another factor at play here — altruism. The coronavirus may have ripped through the world, killing tens of thousands, but it has also seen acts of selflessness, such as the hundreds of thousands of Britons who volunteered to help their communities.

Urgent calls for blood donations are no exception. In Bulgaria, following the health ministrys call, there were over 500 donations in just three days.

In Italy, the authorities plea was met with an “impressive” influx of donors. Most astoundingly, regions that have been brought to their knees by the virus have seen high numbers of donors, with hard-hit Lombardy having such a good response that it had 110 bags of blood to give to other areas.


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