The World Health Organization’s new action plan to speed up universal access to safe blood and blood products pulls together existing recommendations and recommends new improved ways of working. It’s the start of a four-year collaborative effort to improve blood transfusion and blood-based therapies in all countries.

Safe blood saves lives in all sorts of circumstances, not least in emergency and epidemic settings. Blood transfusion and blood products are critical for birth delivery for both the mother and baby; the survival and quality of life of patients suffering from life-threatening conditions such as haemophilia, thalassemia, immune deficiency and cancer; treating severe injuries and carrying out medical and surgical procedures.  

But progress in blood safety and availability has been slow in many parts of the world, placing patients’ safety at risk and putting undue pressure on health workers. Progress is also mostly restricted to developed countries. Out of the approximate 118 million blood donations collected globally, 42% are collected in high-income countries, home to 16 % of the world’s population. And one out of four low-income countries do not test all donated blood, while 54% of countries do not have surveillance systems to securitise the supply chain from blood donor to patient. 

Challenges include: slow implementation of national blood policies and weak blood regulatory systems; insufficient number of voluntary blood donors (who are considered the safest donors); poor quality management of screening tests, blood grouping and compatibility testing; inappropriate clinical use of blood; insufficient national funding for blood safety.

To address these, WHO has set out six key objectives for all countries and in particular those with weak blood systems:

  • appropriately structured, well-coordinated and sustainably resourced national blood systems;
  • regulatory capacity to ensure the quality and safety of blood;
  • functioning and efficiently managed blood services;
  • effective implementation of patient blood management to optimize transfusion practices;
  • effective surveillance, haemovigilance and pharmacovigilance, supported by comprehensive and accurate data collection systems;
  • partnerships, collaboration and information exchange to achieve key priorities and jointly address challenges and emerging threats at global, regional and national levels.

The Organization looks forward to working with partners worldwide to implement the plan, improve blood supply particularly in the low and middle-income countries where this is so urgently needed, and save lives. The plan will run from 2020-2024.