Public Health:

Maintaining an Adequate Blood Supply Is Key to Emergency Preparedness

GAO-02-1095T: Published: Sep 10, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2002.

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The terrorist attacks of September 11 underscored the critical importance of a safe and adequate supply of blood for transfusions. In recent years, an average of 8 million volunteers have donated more than 14 million units of blood annually, and 4.5 million patients per year have received life-saving blood transfusions, according to the American Association of Blood Banks. Ninety percent of the U.S. blood supply is collected by two blood suppliers, the American National Red Cross and the independent blood banks affiliated with America's Blood Centers. Within the federal government, the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for overseeing the safety of the nation's blood supply. The surge in donations after the terrorist attacks added an estimated 500,000 units to annual collections in 2001. The experience illustrated that large numbers of Americans are willing to donate blood in response to disasters. However, because very few of the units donated immediately after September 11 were needed by the survivors, this experience has also raised concerns among blood suppliers and within the government about how best to manage and prepare the blood supply for emergencies. Data indicate that the blood supply has increased in the past 5 years and that it remains generally adequate. Blood collections increased 21 percent from 1997 to 2001, and collections in the first half of 2002 appear to have been roughly equivalent to the same period in 2001. Blood suppliers and the federal government have begun to reevaluate how blood is collected during and after disasters to avoid repeating this experience and also to ensure that enough blood is available during emergencies. A task force, including members from federal agencies and blood suppliers, has been formed to coordinate the response in future emergencies to the need for blood. Insights from the experiences of September 11 and other disasters have led the task force to conclude that the need for blood in most emergencies can be best met by maintaining an adequate blood inventory at all times, rather than increasing blood collections following a disaster.

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