Blood Donation to Fight the Pandemic: Conversation with DonorUA, a Vernadsky Challenge Finalist

22 May 2020
DonorUA interview

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the proper functioning of the medical system plays a vital role in overcoming the disease. People have undoubtedly questioned the importance of health workers. The issue of donation becomes especially vital, as quarantine measures have limited the ability to donate blood. We interviewed Iryna Slavinska, a 2015 Vernadsky Challenge finalist and a founder of DonorUA – the Ukrainian blood donor registry. Iryna also works at the Center for Public Health with the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and is the president of the Association of Young Donors of Ukraine. She shared information with us about the current state of blood donations in Ukraine and the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on donations.  

What successes have you experienced since starting DonorUA?

In general, the creation of DonorUA is a great success. Together with Oleksandr Krakovetsky, we founded the project in 2015 and have worked in a challenging area. DonorUA is self-financed with money from the projects we come up with. Currently, an average of 60 people register to save lives through our site every day. Of course, we work hard for this, we collaborate with other projects that help us promote blood donation.

What challenges have you overcome during the project?

We have repeatedly asked ourselves whether we should continue with the project and how to do so. Everything is limited by financial capabilities. We get encouragement from those people who write notes of gratitude because the life of a particular person has been saved. I would conclude that everything has been a challenge. But, we cannot cancel the project when 300,000 patients in Ukraine need blood components.

Has the coronavirus pandemic decreased the number of people willing to donate blood?

The number of applicants has decreased, and one of the reasons is the lack of public transport. It is difficult for people to reach blood centers. That is why DonorUA, together with the Worth to Live Foundation, organized the “Taxi for Donors” project. People in cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Odessa, Dnipro, Poltava, and Zaporizhia can, right now, take a taxi to the blood centers for free.

There is also the problem that the public lacks awareness about the transmission of COVID-19 through the blood. Coronavirus cannot be transmitted just through blood because it is a respiratory disease. We recommend that donors measure their temperature before leaving the house and, if presence of the disease is suspected, they should stay home. The blood center will also provide you with the most detailed information about COVID-19.

Do you let potential donors know that coronavirus cannot be transmitted through the blood?

Yes. We have created an entire section for “coronavirus” in the Bloodpedia area of the DonorUA website. We are constantly posting interesting information about COVID-19 and talking about donations. We use only official sources of information, such as WHO, FDA.

Is there the capacity in Ukraine to treat COVID-19 by blood transfusion from people who have overcome this disease?

We have all the infrastructure and equipment. There are blood centers that people can visit for a blood transfusion. It may be necessary to further titrate the plasma, but the production process is no different from conventional plasmapheresis (plasmapheresis is the removal, treatment, and return or exchange of blood plasma or components thereof from and into the bloodstream).

Will you encourage blood donations from those who have overcome coronavirus?

I hope so. We will have to communicate with people who have overcome the coronavirus because that is not the only criterion for donating blood. It is also important to establish that this person in general can be a donor. As only those people over 18 years old, weighing over 50 kg and in good health can be a donor.

Is the donation system in other countries different from the Ukrainian system, and how much?

If we talk about the activities of public organizations, such as the Red Cross or others who work in the field of blood donation and its components, they have a production process unlike DonorUA. What does it mean? They have the right to procure, test and distribute blood components between hospitals. We, in turn, only promote free voluntary blood donation.

In developed countries, the system of recruiting donors is done by both blood banks and public organizations. In Ukraine, the patient usually seeks their own donors. This means that the donor is known, and the donation is then carried out, at least partially, by one or two blood centers throughout the country.

The DonorUA system is primarily an automated system for recruiting and managing blood donors and blood components. However, public institutions such as city and regional blood centers or hospital departments are just beginning to understand that we are helping to find donors, and their system of recruitment is not even close. According to statistics, the share of donors who come only once is 70% in Ukraine.

As for the legislation of the donation system, in developed countries the donation system is established, while in developing countries (including Ukraine) the process is in the stage of formation and implementation.

In February 2019, the Strategy for the Development until 2022 of the National Blood System was adopted, which aims to achieve the goal of timely provision of quality blood components to patients. To accomplish this, it is necessary to transform the structure of the donation system, implement EU legislation and standards, as well as pay close attention to the promotion of free voluntary blood donation.