For Brittney Linder’s infant son Khalil, blood donations are a matter of life and death. He was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, a genetic blood disorder, in the womb and suffered a stroke when he was just one day old. Khalil recovered, but before he was six months old he was hospitalized again.
Brittney knew something was wrong when her normally energetic toddler became so tired that he could barely crawl. A cold caused a decrease in Khalil’s blood flow, making him dangerously ill and desperately in need of a blood transfusion. Another cold the following Thanksgiving led to another dash to hospital and another life-saving transfusion.
Khalil’s hospital trips were so frequent that Brittney kept a bag packed by her front door. He turns four this week and he’s already had six blood transfusions. Brittney doesn’t know when the next emergency will come, but she knows that one day it is likely she will make that terrifying trip to the hospital again. When she does, Khalil’s life will once again be in the hands of others—not just the doctors, nurses, and medical staff, but people he’ll never know in Charlotte, N.C., whose blood donations he desperately needs.
This Sunday is World Blood Donor Day—and it could not come at a more important time. The U.S. typically has enough blood on the shelves to last about four days. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, thousands of blood drives throughout the country were cancelled and social distancing measures limited blood centers’ ability to collect blood. As a result, blood supplies fell to critically low levels—down to about one day’s worth. Thanks to a massive public awareness campaign spurred by health organizations and policymakers, the situation was stabilized.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t lasted. Blood has a limited shelf life and the supply must continually be replenished to prevent shortages. In the past few weeks, donations have once again dropped to critically low levels. With states now beginning to reopen and hospitals resuming elective surgeries, we may face an even greater threat to the nation’s blood supply.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of America’s history of systemic racism and institutionalized discrimination. People of color are dying at disproportionate rates and the economic recession is falling hardest on historically disadvantaged communities. Some health conditions—including Khalil’s sickle cell disease—disproportionately affect Black populations. And with people of color significantly underrepresented in the nation’s blood donor pool, treating those conditions successfully is often even more difficult.
Brittney Linder isn’t just an incredible mom to Khalil—she’s also become a passionate advocate for increasing blood donations, particularly in the African American community, through her Moms Against Sickle Cell Disease initiative. In fact, regular blood transfusions are a common treatment for millions of people who are fighting severe pain, anemia, organ damage and even strokes. Patients’ lives are at risk if the donor pool doesn’t match the demand for blood.
We urgently need more donors to come forward in the U.S. and internationally. To help, Facebook is expanding its Blood Donations feature to five new countries and will continue to offer this feature to any country that requests it. The feature was launched in 2017 to help people find places to donate blood in their communities and to be notified when a nearby blood donation center is facing a critical shortage. It has helped U.S. blood bank partners increase donations by an average of 19% at participating sites. We have grown to more than 70 million donors worldwide on our platform, but there are still gaps in connecting blood collection facilities to donors.
That’s why Facebook and AABB are announcing a new partnership to increase the blood donor supply in the nation and throughout the world. AABB, which represents virtually all blood centers in the U.S.—will help connect donors to blood collection facilities throughout the country.
Some people may ask if it is safe to donate blood during the pandemic. The simple and short answer is yes. Blood collection facilities follow the highest standards of safety and infection control during normal times, and they have taken even stronger steps in recent months to reflect the new reality—such as implementing social distancing and, in many cases, requiring donors to wear face masks or other coverings.
If you are looking for a way to help your community during this difficult time, then giving blood is a great way to do it. Most blood is used to treat people in the local area where it is donated. By donating—or encouraging your friends and family to donate on your behalf—you are helping the people in your community who need it most at a time when it is more urgent than ever. Every blood donation can save up to three lives. One of them might be Khalil. He, and millions of others, are counting on us; we can’t let them down.