World Blood Donor Day: It’s in you to give!

World Blood Donor Day: It’s in you to give!

I lay on the chair staring hard out the window, ignoring my friends and squeezing a latex glove filled with warm water. It was a cloudy Saturday afternoon and my first experience donating blood.

It was nerve-wracking—I have a tendency to faint, so you can’t blame me!—but a thoroughly rewarding experience. Blood and blood products are constantly needed and a single donation can save up to three lives. Check out the numbers.

  • A unit of blood is about 450 millilitres, the standard amount of one donation.
  • The average person has about 5 litres of blood in their body.
  • The average patient needs 4.5 units of blood.
  • Cancer treatments typically require 5 units; hip replacements, 2 units; and automobile accidents, over 50 units.

It’s in you to give!

The World Health Organization (WHO) hosts World Blood Donor Day annually on June 14 to celebrate voluntary donors and to raise awareness about the need for safe blood and blood products around the world. When I was asked to write a blog to note this day I thought back to my donor experience and my awareness of our good fortune in Canada, where blood collection, transfusion and fractionation technology are stable and safe.

Used by permission under creative commons licensing: flickr user European Parliament

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world; many developing countries lack the processes required for effectively collecting blood, and when it is collected, it is often unsafe. (To read more on blood safety, see this article from The Lancet and this article from the World Health Assembly.) For example, transfusions of poor-quality blood lead to 5 to 10% of HIV infections worldwide and up to 16 million additional hepatitis B infections.

Innovation in blood management

This presents an opportunity for innovation in blood management in developing countries. WHO has been putting great effort into creating effective national blood services systems and engaging volunteer donors, as altruistic donors have been determined to be the safest source of blood products.

But in addition to changing processes, new blood technology is constantly in development. HB Products Inc. is a MaRS incubator tenant and client that is developing a solution to decrease the cardiovascular side effects associated with blood transfusions, which are a common and debilitating issue with transfusions of donated blood or hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers.

Another cool “blood-tech” innovation is one I read about a long time ago: technology to enable freeze-drying of blood plasma to speed up blood clotting and healing in traumatic military situations. (Regular plasma has a shelf life of about five days, which is wildly insufficient in military combat emergencies where hospital blood services are far out of reach.)

Long story short, if you’re a donor, good on you! If you’re not, get out there if you can. Blood-services systems management will hopefully continue to improve in developing countries, and technology being developed here in North America can go a long way to improving the health of populations overall. Celebrating World Blood Donor Day is an important way to raise awareness of the key role that donors play in providing safe blood resources, both in Canada and afar.

For those who’ve made it this far… today is my last day at MaRS, so this is my last blog post! Thanks for reading.


  • To learn more about donating blood in Canada, visit the Canadian Blood Services website. 
  • To learn more about World Blood Donor Day, visit the World Health Organization website. 
  • To learn more about the parts of blood that are used from each donation, click here.