FALLS CHURCH, Va., June 24, 2014 – Eligible service members, beneficiaries, contractors, government service workers and retirees may be able to save lives globally through their ongoing blood donations, the Armed Services Blood Program director said.
Navy Capt. Roland Fahie said the program includes the Army, Navy and Air Force but supports the entire Defense Department medical health system, including the Coast Guard and the reserve components.
“Though we’re at war, we have to make sure the blood supply remains safe even in conditions which can be austere,” Fahie said. “We support surgeries around the world, wherever blood is needed, in whatever type or amount and in the right amount of time.”
The Armed Services Blood Program coordinates with the services to ensure the delivery of safe blood and helps them implement their policies on safe collection.
“We all work together as a unit to collect, test, ship and manage the entire distribution system of blood and blood products throughout the Armed Services Blood Program,” he said.
But Fahie noted that military people and family members can be prone to any of several travel-related and medical restrictions in accordance with Food and Drug Administration guidance to the Defense Department. The policies, he explained, are based on FDA regulations and other regulatory organizations such as the American Association of Blood Banks and the College of American Pathologists.
Fahie said ASBP’s strict adherence to the policies mandate that all donor centers and transfusion services within the program are licensed by the FDA to collect, test and ship blood and blood products globally.
As the military moves out of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the captain said, State Department hospitals remain in the areas of responsibility, where they continue to treat people and rely on the ASBP not only for blood and blood products, but also for technical assistance.
Meanwhile, ASBP’s transfusion medicine and business practices have evolved for the better since Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fahie said. “We are the expeditionary explorers of transfusion practices and guidelines in the theater or in trauma situations,” he added.
The captain recounted that from World War II to Vietnam to modern-day conflicts, transfusion-related death rates have dropped from 60 percent to 16 percent to 10 percent for very specific reasons.
“We’ve been getting fresher blood to them faster at the point of injury because of the logistics we have in theater to move blood forward,” Fahie said. “We can now transfuse blood en route, we can transfuse blood at any theater hospital or even with a special forces unit and OEF/OIF really helped us shape the way that we practice transfusion medicine.”
Whether for war or humanitarian assistance, ASBP may need to travel to an area at risk for infectious diseases or where there could be a travel restriction already in place, the captain said.
Fahie also pointed out the issue of unpredictability of FDA testing for certain diseases such as Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, while ongoing caution remains for long-threatening diseases like malaria. “The challenge is to educate recruits because a lot of the blood [warfighters] receive on the battlefield when injured is coming through the Armed Services Blood Program,” he said.
Fahie said officials have considered realigning the program’s marketing efforts to be closer to training bases to reach populations who haven’t yet been to regions that might preclude donations.
Fahie also noted that while the ASBP works closely with the American Red Cross, the American Blood Centers and other civilian blood collection agencies to assist with requirements they cannot fill, there are important distinctions.
“We’re the only distribution system that’s going to get you blood on the battlefield — and it’s going to come through the Armed Services Blood Program,” Fahie said. “[Donations] impact our mission of being able to support the warfighter anywhere.”
The captain explained that ASBP resources are pre-positioned globally to ensure rapid response from casualty receiving and hospital ships, aircraft, Marine elements and myriad other locales. Though it’s widely known that the program supports people while at war, Fahie related that hospitals still must operate while not at war to provide global assistance.
“We’re in Vietnam, we’re in Africa, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand. … We’re all over the world, assisting with writing the national policy and helping them to have a safe blood supply for their military and civilian community,” he said.
While most healthy adults are eligible to give blood, some people may be deferred from donating temporarily, indefinitely, or permanently, Fahie said.
Though deferral criteria have been established for the protection of those donating and for those receiving transfusions in accordance with FDA regulatory requirements, a temporary deferral should not discourage donors from coming back, the captain said.
Generally, blood donors must:
— Weigh at least 110 pounds;
— Be at least 17 years of age, though the age may vary by state;
— Have been feeling well for at least three days;
— Be well hydrated; and
— Have eaten something prior to donating.
According to the ASBP website, blood donor travel-related deferral criteria do not apply to organ and bone marrow or hematopoietic stem cell donation, and those ineligible to donate blood due to travel to disease-prevalent areas may still be eligible to donate organs and bone marrow.
Visit the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network for information on becoming an organ donor and the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program to learn how to join the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry for additional ways to save a life.