Making Europe's blood safter

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 21 January 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:147

The European Commission has produced a six point strategy to ensure the safety of blood and self sufficiency in the European Union. The plan is a response to health ministers' request a year ago for an investigation into the legal provisions and current practices with regard to blood and blood products. The aim is to agree common safety criteria.

The report acknowledges the increased demand for stricter regulations and recognises the need to re-establish people's confidence. It suggests targeted information and education campaigns. To increase the number of donors the commission says that certain groups, such as students, need to be targeted. People need to be encouraged to donate blood voluntarily and more often, the social affairs commissioner, Mr Padraig Flynn, said.

The commission recommends that common procedures in blood and plasma collection centres should replace the present variety of donor selection processes. This would help when products were moved from one country to another and assure the public about the safety of the blood irrespective of where it was donated. There should be an examination of the scientific evidence for and against screening tests and a study of the proficiency of testing kits for blood transfusions. The commission would like to see agreement on common quality control and quality assurance procedures and is pressing for clearly defined requirements for blood collection establishments with inspection and certification programmes. The quality and dissemination of data on diseases transmitted by blood should be improved.

As the union moves towards its target of self sufficiency in blood through voluntary unpaid donations, latest research indicates that between 1989 and 1991 whole blood donations increased in 10 of the then 12 member states and overall rose by 6% from 15.2 million to 16.1 million donations. The volume of plasma from voluntary donations of whole blood and donations for plasmapheresis increased by 20%. But the shortage of plasma for preparing medicinal products meant a 5% increase in imports, mainly from the United States.

The report draws on the findings of a recent survey, with questions on topics related to blood, among 13 300 people aged over 15 in the union. This showed that overall the public was well informed: 98% were aware of different blood groups, 90% knew that donating blood does not permanently reduce its volume in the body, and 89% realised that blood donations were tested for disease. But the survey showed that because of AIDS 70% of those questioned were more afraid now than before about the safety of blood and blood products. Giving blood was frightening for 27%, and 73% of the sample were concerned about receiving it. The majority (78%) believed that freely donated blood should be provided free.—RORY WATSON, Brussels correspondent, European

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