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Military Pushes for Blood Donors

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Aug. 2, 2002 – Service members have been donating blood in record numbers -- and they need to keep it up, said Army Col. Mike Fitzpatrick, director of the Armed Services Blood Program Office.

Fitzpatrick said the main military blood need is for Operation Enduring Freedom. "We're shipping 500 units of blood per week to Afghanistan. We have a continued need," he said. "Operation Enduring Freedom continues, our units are still deployed, so the high level of donation we're seeing needs to continue. We can't afford any decrease."

The Enduring Freedom area in Central Asia has 17 medical units, and the blood program must keep an inventory available in case of casualties. Blood only has a 42-day shelf life.

The summer is generally a slow time for blood donations. The civilian community is hurting, especially in large urban areas. Already this summer, Defense Department medical facilities have helped civilian facilities in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Fitzpatrick said.

"Our main need is to provide blood for Operation Enduring Freedom and our own sites first, and then we provide it to the civilians when it's possible."

Service members who wish to donate blood can go either to one of the 21 Army, Air Force or Navy blood donor centers or a local civilian donor center.

Fitzpatrick said that service members are more apt to donate blood than the civilian community. "In the civilian sector, about 3 to 5 percent of the population donates blood," he said. "At our sites where we have donor centers, it has reached 10 percent. Our donors are well-motivated. I want to thank them for that motivation, and I want to ask them to continue to donate in the future."

There are restrictions to donating blood related to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of "mad cow disease." Roughly 18 percent of the active duty force cannot donate blood because they've served in Great Britain or Europe between 1980 and 1996. The Food and Drug Administration is taking a cautious approach to that situation, Fitzpatrick said.

Service members, their family members, retirees and their families cannot donate blood if they:  

  • Traveled or resided in the United Kingdom from 1980 through 1996 for a cumulative period of three months or more. 

     

  • Traveled or resided in Europe from 1980 through 1996 for a cumulative period of six months or more. 

     

  • Traveled or resided in Europe from 1980 to the present for a cumulative period of five years or more. 

     

  • Received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom since 1980. 

     

  • Received a bovine insulin product produced in the United Kingdom since 1980.
The Food and Drug Administration is constantly evaluating the situation. If the FDA changes the blood donation policy, so will the Armed Services Blood Program.

For more information, a directory of donor facilities, rules, tips and news, visit the Armed Services Blood Program Web site at www.tricare.osd.mil/asbpo.

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