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Health

Everything you need to know about donating blood

June 14th is World Blood Donor Day. This year, the WHO date comes after a horrific mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 50 people dad.

Many gay and bisexual men were ready to donate blood to help save the lives of friends, family who had been those injured.

However, due to continued restrictions imposed by the US Food and Agriculture, no man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months or woman who has had sex with a man who has had sex with a man in the past 12 months may donate blood.

It's a policy built on stigma and faulty science--as it implies that gay men are inherently infected with something. Many US states have rolled back this outdated and harmful ban, but in Florida it remains. 

This instance leads to many other questions regarding blood donations; like why do some countries pay you to donate blood, and what the heck blood donations are used for?  So here is EVERYTHING you need to know about donating blood.

How many people donate blood each year?

108 million donations are collected each year from unpaid voluntary donors, paid donors or family members. In 62 countries, 100 percent of donations are collected from unpaid volunteers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the world should aim to reach 100 percent unpaid voluntary donations by 2020. 72 countries already are close, getting 93 percent of blood from unpaid voluntary donors.

In low income countries, youth (18-24) donate more blood than any other age, meanwhile in high income countries the most common age bracket is slightly older (25-44).

What are the policies around donating blood around the world?

Over 168 countries have a system in place to collect blood donations. 81 percent of blood donations from high-income countries have a national policy (this is where more than 50 percent of donations come from), while 44 percent of low-income countries have a set policy.

WHO recommends implementing a testing and screening system for all blood donations, a policy that many high-income countries strictly adhere to. With HIV testing this can be complicated, however, because the virus can remain undetected for an average of 22 days.

Where can you get paid for donating blood?

You can get paid for donating blood in 25 countries around the world. Some countries will give you paid time off work to go donate blood, while others like Germany, China, US, and Russia pay for plasma donations.

What countries have controversial policies?

To curb the deadly spread of HIV and combat the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, the US FDA, and CDC, along with other health groups, put together new guidelines for donating blood. The policy in the US was first put in place in 1983, barring men who’ve had sex with other men indefinitely from donating blood. After nearly a decade of advocacy from organisations like the American Red Cross, American Medical Association, and even New York City Council, in December 2015 the FDA amended their policy from essentially a lifetime ban to 1 year restriction on donating blood for gay and bisexual men. The FDA reasoning for not lifting the 12 month restriction was that HIV rates would increase by 1 person every 32.8 years.

24 countries, from Germany to Malaysia currently impose an indefinite ban on gay or bisexual men donating blood -- 16 countries hold the policy that any man who has had sex with another man must wait 1 year to be able to donate.

What is donated blood used for? 

Blood is used for all kinds of purposes. Cancer (blood transfusions during chemotherapy), surgery and trauma and three common reasons for blood donations. Whole blood donations are used for the majority of medical treatments, and some require only plasma or platelets to be collected and used. Overall, 22 medical treatments require blood donations.

When you donate blood, organizations such as the Red Cross will usually separate whole blood into red blood cells, plasma and platelets in a lab. Plasma can treat all kinds of things like cancer, blood diseases, haemophilia, anaemia, heart disease, stomach disease, kidney disease, childbirth, operations, blood loss, trauma and burns.

Take this WHO quiz to test your blood donation knowledge! Share your thoughts on blood donation policy in the comments below.