With the shortage of blood and plasma donations, uniting communities to offer the gift of life

Canadians are used to the typical fallout of stormy weather: power outages, traffic accidents, travel delays.

What is often not recorded are blood shortages. Currently, Canadian Blood Services is reporting a 10% drop, or about 1,500 blood and plasma donations, due to severe weather that has hit much of the country over the past 10 days. There are more than 25,000 open appointments the agency wants to fill by New Year’s Eve.

Where an ideal supply of fresh blood products would be available to cover between five and eight days, there is only enough for three or four. This impacts patients undergoing cancer treatments and the supply available to keep newborn babies and people in urgent care alive.

However, the problem is much deeper than bad weather. In fact, Canadian Blood Services has reported a loss of over 31,000 repeat donors since the start of the COVID pandemic. Amazingly, the national blood supply has shrunk by more than 35%, with the donor base the weakest in a decade.

This is a national emergency and we need everyone’s participation. This will require concentrated efforts to encourage people from diverse communities to contribute. Furthermore, since stem cell and organ donors are also scarce, multilingual campaigns and specific outreach to underserved communities in all of these areas would go a long way.

Yet there is a historic lack of trust between Canadian Blood Services and some communities, OmiSoore Dryden said in a CBC interview earlier this month. Dryden is an associate professor at Dalhousie University and an expert on blood donation and anti-black racism in health care. She pointed to the stigma around HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s that was misused to prevent Haitian communities from donating blood, as well as similar stereotypes used against people from or who have lived in Africa.

“It’s not just that we’re not included, but it means that when we need these services, they don’t have the supply we need. And so it’s a systemic barrier to our participation, and it’s a systemic outcome because we don’t have what we need,” said Dryden, who noted that the agency is currently developing anti-racism practices and anti-oppressive.

Melissa Deleary, an Indigenous woman who donated bone marrow stem cells to help save the life of an Indigenous patient, shared her story on the Canadian Blood Services website. He noted that less than two percent of potential donors listed in the Canadian Stem Cell Registry are Indigenous.

Lack of representation is endemic. For example, the search for a compatible stem cell donor last summer for a young toddler of Asian and Caucasian origin in Montreal showed that just over 15% of stem cell donor registries come from the community. Asian, compared to more than 70 percent who are white.

Overcoming barriers that may prevent racialized communities from contributing is fundamental to the health of life-sustaining supplies in Canada, and there is ample evidence that this leads to positive outcomes.

As a recent TVO analysis by writer Vicky Mochama points out, more than 9,000 members of Canada’s Sikh community have donated more than 4,000 units of blood since 2012 through a volunteer-run community group. called Sikh Nation.

And last August, Canadian members of a global religious movement called « Who is Hussein » held events in 16 cities, donating more than 440 units of blood and plasma as part of the Global Blood Heroes campaign.

“Having people see people they know – from their own community – hosting a blood donation event, maybe that made them feel more comfortable about getting involved,” said Zainab Merhi, a volunteer from Ottawa.

More inclusion will save lives.

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