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The American Red Cross announces national blood shortage after climate-related disasters

The organization said its blood supply has dropped by 25% since the beginning of August.
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Will Varner

· 3 min read

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The American Red Cross called for blood and platelet donations Monday as the nation’s supply reaches “critically low levels.”

The Red Cross, which supplies about 40% of the country’s blood, saw its blood supply drop by nearly 25% since early August, following a summer of climate disasters and low donor turnout. The shortfall of donations threatens care for patients who rely on lifesaving blood transfusions for conditions such as cancer or sickle cell disease, according to the organization.

“For so many patients living with urgent medical care needs, crises don’t stop with natural disasters,” Pampee Young, chief medical officer for the Red Cross, said in a statement.

The US has experienced “back-to-back months” of climate disasters like hurricanes, which can cancel blood drives. At the same time, those disasters increased the need for donations, according to the Red Cross. For example, over 700 units of blood and platelets were uncollected after Hurricane Idalia hit southeastern parts of the US last month.

Hurricanes and tropical storms can disrupt blood collection for multiple days, and the most crucial time to donate blood is before the storm arrives to “sustain the blood supply during and immediately after the event,” nonprofit blood center OneBlood spokesperson Susan Forbes said in a statement.

Similarly, other weather-related events like wildfire smoke and unhealthy air conditions contributed to a donation shortfall over the summer, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

The Red Cross said it’s monitoring Hurricane Lee, which is expected to hit the East Coast later this week and may “further hamstring the organization’s ability to collect lifesaving blood products during this critical time.”

The Covid-19 pandemic also led to a steep decline of high school and university blood drives due to school staffing shortages, the Washington Post reported. Corporate blood drives are suffering during this time as well due to fewer employees working in the office.

All hope is not lost, however. The reversal of an AIDS-era rule that prevented many gay and bisexual men from donating blood may help increase the eligible pool of blood donors, Healthcare Brew previously reported. (About 62% of US residents are eligible to donate blood at any given time, a 2019 study from researchers at Arizona State University found.)

The Red Cross implemented the new donation guidelines on August 7, according to a statement.

“The need for blood is constant. Every two seconds, someone in the US needs blood—an often-invisible emergency that the rest of the world doesn’t see behind closed hospital doors. Now, that urgency has only heightened,” Young said in a statement.

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