The Jakarta Post
The international community recently celebrated World Blood Donor Day on June 14. Not only does it recognize blood donors as generous heroes, the day also signals firm public awareness in the importance of voluntary and regular blood donations.
One in three Indonesians will need blood in their lifetime. Access to a safe and sufficient blood supply prevents death. Yet, currently only one in 200 donate.
Every week, Indonesia needs around 48,000 blood donations to ensure enough supplies for people in need. At the current donation rate, Indonesia can only fulfill around half of the blood demand. The others have to depend on blood provided by families, friends, or even on paid donations.
Furthermore, there is an unequal distribution of blood supply in Indonesia. According to the Health Ministry in 2014, Jakarta had an excess supply of blood of 60 percent ' while there was a 96.3 percent shortage of blood in West Papua.
When it comes to an adequate and reliable supply of safe blood, emphasis is given to the voluntary blood donors. They don't give for funds. Some started with a sense of social responsibility. Some give for the chance to help others.
Through the good donor care, health benefits and encouragement when donating blood, they feel personal satisfaction and self-pride. This seems to be why voluntary blood donors are more likely to keep donating blood than other types of donors. In fact, even years after retiring from donating blood, they continue promoting voluntary blood donations in communities.
In 2010, Yuyun Soedarmono, the former director of the Central Blood Center of the Indonesian Red Cross (IRC), reported that in Indonesia about 80 percent of donations were from voluntary sources. This figure is not much different than today's, which means more progress is needed to meet the 100 percent target.
The IRC awards the regular donors and those who have donated 100 times with a medal pinned on them by the President. This strategy can become more attractive if combined with effective public education and organized campaigns. Together, it will occur to most people how their voluntary blood donations really contribute to community health.
Donating blood becomes more accessible for volunteers because IRC currently has about one blood bank in each regency, not to mention the mobile blood donation vehicles. This advantage must be developed by public confidence that the blood donation process is safe and protects the health of blood donors.
Many still express fear of needles, the possibility of fainting and perceptions that blood donation relates to the risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
It is therefore essential to identify the public beliefs and address them directly, work in collaboration with the media and the community to reach out to large numbers of people.
The capacity of Indonesia to make efforts for voluntary blood donation depends on the strength of its national blood program.
A blood donor program cannot perform itself and requires active partnership with community organizations, professional societies and other stakeholders.
The United Arab Emirates, for example, started from zero voluntary donations in 1990 to 80 percent in 2004 and 97.6 percent in 2006. The power of political commitment and community involvement has established this rapid progress, which Indonesia should follow.
Thanks to blood donors for saving millions of lives. The joyful moment surrounding World Blood Donor Day is also a time for us to focus on how to best support the plans and actions at the national and community levels for escalating voluntary blood donations. Progress to 100 percent voluntary blood donation will be one of the steps to achieve health for all.
Novita Gemalasari Liman is a physician who works in Barru, South Sulawesi, and is a research associate at Suharlim Foundation and Ronald Ariyanto Wiradirnata is a physician in Maros, South Sulawesi.