Blood Supply:

Availability of Blood

T-HEHS-99-195: Published: Sep 23, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 1999.

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William J. Scanlon
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the availability of blood to meet the nation's requirements as well as recent and proposed policy changes regarding blood donation that may affect the future supply.

GAO noted that: (1) while there is cause for concern about shortages of certain blood types or in certain regions, the blood supply as a whole is not in crisis; (2) although a recent report by the National Blood Data Resource Center (NBDRC) projected that the demand for blood will outstrip the available supply by next year, GAO believes that this study overstates the decline in blood supply; (3) moreover, most of the decline found by NBDRC was in donations targeted for specific individuals--not in the community supply of blood available to anyone in need--and the projection relies on data from only 2 years; (4) at the same time, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the nation's blood supply, has initiated a major policy change--and is considering another--that could further affect the blood supply; (5) specifically, the Department's Food and Drug Administration has recommended prohibiting blood donations from individuals who spent a total of 6 months or more in the United Kingdom (U.K.) between 1980 and the end of 1996 because of concerns over the possible transmissibility of the human form of "mad cow" disease; (6) the U.K. donor exclusion policy has been estimated to reduce the blood supply by approximately 2.2 percent; (7) blood banks fear that the actual loss due to this exclusion will be greater, but it is not possible to assess the accuracy of these estimates; (8) HHS has also proposed removing barriers to donation by individuals with hemochromatosis--an iron-overload disease that may be treated by drawing blood--to make up some of the loss from the decreasing donations and possible losses from the U.K. donor exclusion; (9) while the estimates of the potential increase in the blood supply from donations by individuals with hemochromatosis vary widely, most of these increases could not occur until regulations are changed; and (10) therefore, such donations will not affect the available blood supply for some time.

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