Blood Donation in the South Caucasus: Refill, Please!

With the upcoming World Blood Donor Day on June, 14, the question about current attitudes towards blood donation in the South Caucasus is worth examining. While there are considerable efforts in all three countries to increase donation rates and improve blood screening, donation rates remain below 1%, according to WHO data for Armenia and Georgia, and thereby stand at the lower end in international comparison. Increasing the availability of safe blood is of tremendous importance to guarantee the minimum needs for patients. Here we summarize some of the main information provided by the WHO, as it relates to the South Caucasus.

Armenia has registered a growing amount of blood collection over the last few years. In 2009, 54.6% of the donations came from paid donors (US$ 30 per donation), 40.4% from family/ replacement donors and 5% from voluntary non-remunerated donors. The financial incentives for blood donation are strongly anchored, and groups advocating unpaid donation have to compete against remunerated donation offered by the pharma industry. While blood donation is currently financed through the national budget, it is envisaged to shift responsibility to private initiatives. There are already several organisations that advocate for non-remunerated blood donation, mainly Club 25 or the Fund for Armenian Relief.

In Azerbaijan, blood collection figures more than doubled between 2003 and 2006. In 2008, a law was passed by which only non-paid donors are admitted. There is no remuneration for donors with the exception of reimbursement for travel expenses in some cases. Islamic religious groups in Azerbaijan have participated in efforts to increase blood donation. Last year, a campaign was held at mosques and places of pilgrimage during the religious holiday of Ashura. The blood donation system in Azerbaijan is funded by the government and overviewed by the Research Institute on Haematology and Transfusiology, which includes the central blood bank. Apparently the main problems relate to supplies of consumables, which are not always available (e.g. blood bags, tubes etc). 

In Georgia, the donation rate would need to increase by some 60% in order to cover the needs of Georgian patients. The transfusion system is privately managed, although there is government funding for blood donation and tests. The system suffers from a lack of quality control of blood donations, which is especially critical as the rate of Hepatitis C carriers is as high as 6%. Like in Armenia, the expectation for re-numeration for blood donation is deeply rooted. Currently, 95% of blood donations come from paid donors. There are two blood banks promoting voluntary non-remunerated blood donation in Georgia: the Jo Ann Medical Centre blood bank and the Gudushauri Hospital Blood Bank, both of which only work with volunteer donors. In 2009, the First Lady of Georgia started regular volunteer blood donation campaigns. 

Sources and further information are available here.