Urgent measures need to be taken to protect the public from contaminated blood transfusions

Urgent measures need to be taken to protect the public from contaminated blood transfusions, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned today.

In the Western Pacific Region, transmission of HIV/AIDS and other infections such as hepatitis B and C through blood transfusion remains a serious threat. It is particularly acute in areas where prevalence of these diseases is high and access to safe blood is limited.

Addressing the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Shanghai, Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said: "HIV/AIDS has undoubtedly put blood and blood-products safety on the global public health agenda. The seriousness of many other transfusion-transmissible infections, notably hepatitis B and C, has also been increasingly recognized. At the same time, new pathogens that may threaten blood supplies are emerging."

A prerequisite for blood safety is to have a well-organized national blood transfusion system based on voluntary, non-remunerated donations. Dr Omi said "high priority should be given to the elimination of paid blood donor systems, which are often associated with significantly higher prevalence of transfusion-transmissible infections than voluntary systems."

Worldwide, only 20% of the 80 million units of blood collected annually are from developing countries, where 80% of the world's population lives. Blood shortages have a particular impact on women with pregnancy complications, trauma victims and children with severe life-threatening anaemia. Globally, some 150 000 pregnancy-related deaths could be avoided each year through access to safe blood.

"Although some progress has been made in some countries, we still have a long way to go to reach the goal of blood safety," said Dr Omi.

Dr Omi urged for the establishment of voluntary non-remunerated blood donor pools as a way of targeting low risk populations.

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