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June 14 marks World Blood Donor Day. And this year it’s easier than ever to give blood, thanks to a new program launched by Facebook in the United States this week.

The social media giant created a new blood donations feature which incorporates its partnerships with several blood centers, including the American Red Cross. Users who sign up in the “about” section of their profiles will receive notifications from blood centers when there is a need for blood.

Dr. Kaaron Benson, pathologist

Blood supplies run low this time of year, but the initiative is one that gives hope to Dr. Kaaron Benson, who has donated more than 18 gallons of blood since she was a teenager.

The medical director of Moffitt Cancer Center’s blood bank is obviously an advocate for donation and says that those who want to help cancer patients can do so one pint of blood at a time. She adds that donating blood is also incredibly safe for healthy people.

“New, sterile, disposable equipment is used for each donor so there’s no risk of contracting blood-borne infections through donations,” Benson said. “Plus, your body replaces those lost red blood cells after a few weeks.”

Surprisingly, a single unit of blood can benefit several patients by separating it into its various components, like the red blood cells, platelets and plasma. Those individual components can be delivered to patients who are in need of that specific component.

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that 112.5 million blood donations are collected each year.

A majority of blood donors have no idea where their donation will be used or whose life it will save. There are some donors, however, who choose to donate for themselves. Autologous blood donation, as it’s called, is typically done when a patient knows of an upcoming procedure that is oftentimes elective and is anticipated to have sufficient blood loss to require a transfusion.

It’s rare that cancer patients can self-donate, however. Anemia, current infections or the proximity to surgery often makes self-donation impossible for Moffitt patients.

“Cancer patients, including patients here at Moffitt, typically utilize the blood in the community blood bank, which is why it’s so important for others who are healthy to donate locally and replenish that supply,” Benson said. “A patient’s family and friends often want to do something to help and donating blood to the community is something that benefits all patients in need.”

While technology and experience continue to make blood donation easier and safer every year, there is still a large need for donors around the country. The new Facebook initiative could help alleviate some of that shortage.

Each year, countries around the world celebrate World Blood Donor Day to thank voluntary, unpaid blood donors for their life-saving gifts of blood and to raise awareness of the need for regular blood donations to ensure the quality, safety and availability of blood and blood products for patients in need.