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Blood Program Asks Donors to Help Maintain Military Supply

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 24, 2003 – The Armed Forces Blood Program seeks donors to help increase its stock of fresh blood.

Col. Michael Fitzpatrick, who oversees DoD's blood collection and distribution system, said there is "some additional urgency" to replenish the military's supplies because of the prospects of war. To date, the program has been self-supporting in meeting DoD's need for blood. All 17,000 units shipped to date in support of Operation Enduring Freedom have come from DoD blood collection centers.

The DoD program has been able to meet military requirements despite precautionary deferrals for the human form of "mad cow disease."

"We increased our deferrals by 18 percent and we've increased our collections almost 20 percent. That's almost a 40 percent increase in recruitment to achieve the goal that we have in collection," he said.

Having sufficient blood supplies ready to use is crucial to military readiness as the United States prepares for possible conflict in Iraq, Fitzpatrick said. The need for blood and its byproducts tends to rise significantly during contingency operations and as preparations for war step up, he noted.

"As we move toward an increased operations tempo, we will need more blood on the shelves whether we have hostile actions or not," he said. The Defense Department has a sufficient supply of blood products to meet current needs and has replaced its stockpile of frozen plasma, which had been reduced in December by a voluntary withdrawal of frozen plasma potentially affected by West Nile virus. The shipment of blood overseas to support contingency operations has meant less blood on the shelf, he added.

Although the military will continue to press for more donors, Fitzpatrick advised that they not rush to give blood all at once. Fresh blood, which is the preferred product for transfusions and other medical needs, has a shelf life of only 42 days, he said.

"If everyone donates on Day 1, every unit of blood expires on Day 42. It's much better to stagger donations -- that's what allows us to maintain a constant supply of blood," Fitzpatrick explained.

"When your local donor center asks you or your unit to donate, that's when we need military personnel and their families to respond," he added. "Scheduling donations allows us to keep a steady supply of blood flowing to our deployed units and to our medical treatment facilities."

If the Defense Department program cannot stockpile enough blood to meet needs, Fitzpatrick said, the military could buy blood from civilian blood agencies -- although many of them currently are experiencing their own shortages. He said his office negotiates contracts with civilian blood agencies to provide for civilian support if needed.

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