Blood collected from donors - (Photo by Montuno, CC-licensed, some rights reserved)

This week, the UNTOLD Music Festival, which is set to be held in Transylvania, launched a campaign to encourage people to donate blood. Ultimately, festival-goers will be able to pay for their tickets with their bodies—Literally. If you give blood, you get a ticket (or at the very least, a discount on a ticket). This is a whole new kind of blood drive, one that is distinctly different from what most of us are familiar with.

The Need For Blood

Many people (all of us, probably) are familiar with the various blood campaigns launched by the American Red Cross and similar agencies. These drives encourage people to donate blood in order to help those who are sick or injured, heck, if we are being honest, it seems like many agencies are practically begging people to donate, as opposed to simply "encouraging."

Indeed, in an email interview, Cara Leyna Noble, from the American Red Cross, noted the unceasing nature of the campaigns conducted by the American Red Cross:

The Red Cross hosts blood drives seven days a week. We recruit eligible and first time donors through a variety of ways including telerecruitment and marketing tactics, traditional media and social media, special awareness campaigns and events, speaking engagements at colleges, high schools and civic organizations, sharing stories about blood recipients and engaging with Red Cross advocates, civic and government leaders...

Ultimately, these 24/7 efforts are necessary. In the United States alone, every two seconds, someone needs a blood transfusion. That means that we need more than 41,000 blood donations each day, or 14.6 million donations each year. And remember, that's just in the United States.

The Problem?

When you think about it, a pint of blood really isn't too much to ask. This small donation can save up to three lives. Yet, despite the fact that 38% of the U.S. population is able to donate blood, less than 10% of individuals actually do. Hence, the need for continual campaigns and other forms of advocacy.

Noble states that one problem is that people simply don't know there is such a strong need for donations: "The main reason people say they don’t donate is because they have never been asked. So, we like to say – consider yourself 'asked.'"

Another problem that Noble notes is people who don't think about donating because this issue (seems to) not directly impact them: "Often times, if the need for blood isn’t in the forefront of someone’s mind – for instance, if they don’t have a family member or friend who has ever needed blood – it can often be off of their radar screen. That is why it is so important that we take every opportunity we can, such as this story, to educate people about the constant need for blood....one in ten people going in to the hospital needs blood."

However, there is some reason to be optimistic. In the U.S., we are able to collect an estimated 15.7 million donations each year. Ultimately, this is enough to ensure that U.S. citizens who need transfusions are able to get them. Other nations are not so fortunate.

Transylvania's Serious Shortage

As a general (and very basic) rule, adults who are at least 17 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds can safely donate blood. This means that, in most nations, there are a plethora of individuals who can donate...but they don't. In Romania, things are extremely dire, with just 1.7% of the population donating annually.

So they decided to try and do something about it.

"The UNTOLD Festival takes place in Cluj-Napoca, in the heart of Transylvania, which drove Romania to worldwide fame with the legends about vampire Dracula. Given that Romania faces an acute blood shortage in medical facilities, a campaign that takes inspiration from these myths in order to draw attention to a real problem is more than welcome," the UNTOLD Festival director general, Bogdan Buta, explains in the release.

He goes on to say, "The 'Pay with blood' campaign is aimed at boosting awareness of this need and contributing to increasing the number of donors in Romania." But of course, the success of this operation is hinged on its ability to create a lasting impact.

A poster promoting the "pay with blood" campaign.

According to React Association, an organization that set out to try and tackle Romania's blood problem, "The maximum storage duration of the red cells is 35 days, and certain blood products are made only from the blood of regular donors. In these conditions [like the severe shortage in Romania], there is a continuous and growing need both for blood and blood products and for regular donors." So in short, this means that the festival is only a starting point, at best. React goes on to say that, in the end, a true solution will need to involve social, political, and economic changes. For example, they note that, "The Bucharest Center for Blood Transfusions, the place where 5,000 people donate blood every month, has not been renovated since its founding [which was in 1952]."

An Ethical Solution?

When lives are on the line, which they literally are, it doesn't really make too much sense to fret and worry and succumb to inaction over ethical considerations. Yet, the problematic questions are, nonetheless, there.

True, giving out concert tickets is not the same as literally giving people money for their blood; however, the ethical considerations don't really seem too different, especially when one considers that the tickets can easily be sold for money.

So, what's the problem with incentivising blood donations?

To begin with, not everyone can donate blood. When you arrive at the donation facility, you are asked a host of questions related to your health and physical fitness. Now, won't offering money (or other monetary incentives) encourage people to lie in order to ensure that they are able to donate and receive the aforementioned goods? Of course it will.

Thanks to this fantastic piece by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, over at The Atlantic, we already know that a host of issues plague plasma donation centers that pay individuals for donations. In short, when monetary incentives come into play, people with money issues sometimes feel compelled to take dramatic (and potentially life-threatening) actions.

Now, I don't mean to imply that people are going to get die, or even get sick, as a result of the campaign by the UNTOLD Music Festival. But here's the thing: If you made it this far into the article, hopefully you realize that this is more than just a funny story about a festival in Transylvania and a blood shortage (haha, vampires). It is really a rather tragic story, one which highlights our amazingly strong need for donors (and volunteers) who are willing to make longterm commitments to help solve this problem.

So, How Else Can You Help?

If you happen to live in the United States, Noble notes that there are a few things that you can do to offer assistance. Of course, get out and donate; however, there is a lot more that you can do:

The American Red Cross works with more than 50,000 blood drive sponsors each year to hold more than 200,000 blood drives...eighty percent of the blood donations given to the Red Cross are collected at mobile blood drives set up at community organizations, companies, high schools, colleges, places of worship or military installations. The remaining twenty percent are collected at fixed Red Cross donation centers.

Hosting a Red Cross blood drive is a great way to support your community and energize your members, students or employees by providing a convenient way to give back....In addition to donating blood, you can also support the Red Cross by volunteering at or sponsoring a blood drive.

If you would like to sponsor or volunteer, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767 FREE) or log on to redcrossblood.org.

 


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