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What Really Happens to Your Blood After You Donate?

It’s a squeamish subject, but we all need blood...and a lot of it.

In fact, every three seconds, someone in the U.S. needs it.

Whether it’s for having a baby, undergoing surgery, treatments for cancer, or chronic

medical conditions like anemia, blood saves millions of lives annually.

But the catch is – we can only get it from each other.

Which is why very altruistic people in the world donate blood.

Some 6.8 million people in the U.S. alone donate every year.

But where does all this blood go after it leaves your body?

Does it go to the patient down the street?

How about another city?

Let’s start at the post-donation stage.

First, test tubes of your blood get sent to a lab to identify any infectious diseases

and blood type.

At the same time, your pint of blood, or unit as it’s called, goes in a giant spinning

centrifuge where it’s separated into three different components; red blood cells, platelets,

plasma.

And each of these have a designated function.

Red blood cells are what give your blood its color and contain a protein called hemoglobin

which help it transport oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from your lungs.

This is what’s given to patients undergoing surgery or those with low blood cell count,

like anemia.

Platelets are fragments of other cells and they help your blood coagulate properly.

They’re commonly used for cancer patients whose platelets have been affected from chemotherapy.

And finally plasma, a yellowish liquid that’s a mixture of water, salt, and enzymes–but

also antibodies, clotting factors, and proteins.

While plasma’s primary function is to be the literal liquid that shuffles cells throughout

your body, it can be broken down one step further.

The proteins, and antibodies can be extracted and concentrated into therapies for rare chronic

conditions.

The next step is storing all this collected good stuff.

Each of these components are actually stored for different amounts of time in varying temperatures.

Platelets can last up to 3 days, red blood cells last up to 42 days, and plasma can last

up to a full year frozen . So platelets and red blood cells are usually

used within the country they were collected from – but plasma, since it can be stored

for so long and is in such high demand globally, is the one that gets shipped overseas.

If someone from the U.S. donated today, their plasma could be sent to places like Australia,

Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

It’s something we don’t think about, but plasma is a huge global market and the U.S.

is one of the major exporters.

And that’s because they’re one of the only countries to pay donors specifically

for their plasma.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, plasma, vaccines, and blood exports in 2017

were valued at about 20 billion dollars.

Dr. Robert Slomin, a global economist at University of Sydney, estimates that 80% of the world

market is receiving plasma from someplace outside its country of origin.

SLONIM: For many countries for a very long time have not been able to collect enough

plasma for its needs the US has a paid system and it's through private blood banks.

It's basically the world's supplier of plasma.

For example in Australia about 50% of all plasma products that are provided by the hospitals,

that enter the market here, are coming from paid donors from the US.

There’s a monetary incentive for plasma donations because it’s a lengthy process

and can be uncomfortable.

SLONIM: So you can donate plasma much more regularly but it's a much more involved process.

The needle in typically is in the 40 to 45 minutes.

What they'll do as the needle goes in, they'll extract your whole blood.

They then put it through a centrifuge process and they are separating out your red cells

and the platelets from the plasma.

They keep the plasma they put everything back in to you.Very few countries seem to be self-sufficient

in plasma.

The only way they've done it is by having these private blood banks that collect plasma.

But this is where things get, sticky.

Giving a paid incentive like that is controversial.

The demand for blood and plasma is so high that economists some people argue it can’t

be sustained with just selfless virtue.

But the World Health Organization some find the ethics of paid donations complicated and

there have been concerns with people lying about their health in order to get paid.

Based on his research in the field though, Dr. Slomin believes in giving a payment that’s

not directly cash, like a tshirt or a gift card.

And they’ve seen positive increases.

SLONIM: If you offer some form of compensation, what happens?"In Italy they offered you a

paid days leave if you were a blood donor.

This program ran for two years and they found a 40% increase in the blood supply in the

communities that were offering this paid days leave.

Which was really pretty powerful.

Right now, with the need for blood so high, the best method might be to tap into our natural

altruism.