The New York Times Web site has an article this morning discussing current and persisting issues with the American Red Cross and their blood donation procedures. The article states that despite a total in fines of $21 million dollars in the past five years, the Red Cross has failed to implement measures to insure that donated blood is disease free.
The issues have apparently become so serious that the commissioner for the Red Cross attended a board meeting for the first time ever, warning “members that they could face criminal charges for their continued failure to bring about compliance.” The possibility of splitting off the blood services portion of the operations from the remainder of the organization has also been discussed; such a move would be similar to what the Canadian Red Cross has previously done.
According to the article, the major issues appear to be “shortcomings in screening donors for possible exposure to diseases; failures to spend enough time swabbing arms before inserting needles; failures to test for syphilis; and failures to discard deficient blood.” As some may expect, such failures have lead to diseases such as hepatitis, malaria and syphilis when performing blood donations using this blood; to date there appear to be no reports of transmission of HIV or hepatitis B through this blood, as the Red Cross does ensure that all blood are tested for what are considered the more serious diseases.
The Red Cross controls 47% of the nation’s blood supply and close to five million blood transfusions were performed in 2007. The Red Cross’, or any organizations’, failure to perform proper screening of blood donations could cause and apparently has caused unnecessary problems to the person receiving the blood. It is good to hear that the Red Cross is at least performing an adequate duty of screening for these more serious diseases that can be passed through tainted blood. Although it is implausible to think that every batch of diseased blood can be caught, the Red Cross needs to ensure that they take their success in screening for diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and apply these measures in testing all donated blood for any type of infectious diseases in order to reduce these risks as much as possible.