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Blood donation incentives

A new study, which found blood donations increase with gift incentives, could have a positive impact on low rates of blood donation globally.

Blood donation incentives

Forget the free cups of tea and orange juice; a t-shirt, gift-cards, coupons and even paid days off work may become new incentives for increasing public blood donations.

Medical institutions and policy makers such as the World health Organisation have always vehemently opposed economic incentives for blood donations.

For many years they have promoted guidelines stipulating that blood should be collected from ‘unpaid volunteers’. The long-held belief was that blood donations of the highest quality will come from volunteers, and not if the donations have been incentivized.

But, contrary to popular belief, a new study has found that offering a reward for blood isn’t as bad as first thought. In fact, small economic incentives may hold the key to driving an increase in the public blood supply in times of need – like when natural disasters occur.

The study’s findings showed that this long-standing opposition to compensating blood donors has been in part based on outdated evidence:

“These studies typically suggested economic incentives can decrease people’s altruistic motivations to donate, and may also attract donors who have greater risks such as viruses and infectious diseases,” said Professor Slonim, from the School of Economics at the University of Sydney – one of the study’s lead authors.

“However, these findings are questionable as they did not examine actual incentives for actual blood donations, and often relied on study participants who were aware they were being observed by researchers,” Prof. Slonim added.

“Our results clearly find that economic rewards have a positive effect on donations without negative consequences to the safety of the blood.”

In his paper, Slonim and co-authors Nicola Lacetera of the University of Toronto and Mario Macis of Johns Hopkins University, examined studies looking into the behaviours of blood donors in the US, Argentina, Switzerland and Italy.

An advertised $5 gift card reward was all it took to increase the likelihood of previous donors to donate blood again by 26 per cent. A $10 gift card resulted in a 52 per cent increase. The gift cards also encouraged those who had never donated blood before to do so.

“The risks of economic incentives producing an unsafe blood supply have diminished dramatically due to advances in screening technology and changes to the donation guidelines by WHO and many blood collection organisations,” Prof. Slonim argued.

The authors suggested that such incentives should be used when blood supplies are particularly low. But, they cautioned, their evidence does not promote a cash-for-blood policy. Only non-cash items should be incentivized.

“As social scientists, we recognise there is a large gulf between a pure volunteer supply and a market-based system. Our work in Science demonstrates that even small gifts are a powerful tool to address shortages.”

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