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the economics of blood

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I’ll never forget the first time I gave blood in Israel.  As the needle was being taken from my arm as the end of the procedure, I looked up anticipating free orange juice and Mrs. Field’s cookies, just like they give out in the USA.  To my chagrin, I was given a kochav drink instead.  In my own little Yeshiva guy world, I was crushed, but in retrospect, it was the most nourishment I ever received after giving blood.  The next time I gave blood at MDA, and instead of receiving the advertised pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I was given water and advised to go buy something sugary.

But what Israel lacks in recovery foods, it gives in other perks.  The other day, I arrived to Tel Hashomer a bit early for a childbirth seminar with my wife and decided to give some blood.

“Are you giving the blood for someone specific?” asked the nurse.

“No” I responded, “I am just here for a childbirth seminar with my wife and decided to give some blood.”

“Then you should give the blood for her,” the nurse responded.  “If no one gives blood for her and she needs blood during the childbirth process, she will have to go get permission from her insurance to cover it.  But if you say the blood you give now replaces what she will use, then she can get blood without any bureaucracy.”

Of course I wrote that the blood was for my wife in case, God forbid, she needs it.  I was given a small certificate to put into her medical file and a voucher for free parking. 

This incident got me thinking about the economics behind blood donation.

Approximately 4% of Israelis and 3% of American donate blood every year.  And since only 38% of the population can donate blood it is more correct to say that 10.5% and 7.9% of able Israelis and Americans donate blood respectively.  Does this mean that medical preference and free parking beat Mrs. Field’s cookies and orange juice?

Of course not.  Most donors give blood because they want to help others.  People see it as a sort of civic duty, an inexpensive but very important way to give to those in need.  Unsurprisingly, blood donors are generally more conscientious of their civic duty in other matters as well.  In the US, 94% of all blood donors are registered voters, as opposed to the national average of 74% (this does not include people under 18). 

So why do Israelis give more?  My guess is that since people in Israel are more active in the government (serving in the army, voting every year when the government falls etc.) they have more of that sense of duty that inspires blood donation.  But I’d be remiss if I did not mention the fact that Israel offers a lot more chances to give than in the United States.  It is not at all uncommon to see a blood donation ambulance near malls, Universities and major events (I know they do this in the States as well, but anecdotally, I have not seen it as much.)  Make no mistake; convenience is powerful.  Personally speaking, the only reason I have not given blood in the past year or two has been inconvenience.  If there were an ambulance truck next to my house, I’d probably give as often as possible.  I have a similar argument with my wife about recycling.  She insists we recycle everything possible even though the recycling bin is an entire 40 seconds away from our house.  I argue that it is too far for me because it NY it was at my front door.  I usually lose the argument, but the principle still stands.  I hope the Jews in Egypt didn’t have to work this hard.

Getting back to our subject, convenience is vital for receiving blood donations.  That is why Tel Hashomer offers people free parking in return for a pint of blood.  Usually, the driver isn’t the sick person, he is more likely to be the one in the waiting room accompanying a sick relative.  At this point it is convenient and beneficial for him to give blood.  The stupid mistake they make is that the blood lab closes at night, when, statistically speaking, the greatest amount of patients come and people wait the longest.  The lab for donations is closed when the greatest potential exists.

So what could Israel do to inspire more blood donation?  More specifically, how can Israel reach its target demographic and be as convenient for them as possible?

One idea is to find the missing potential donors.  In the US, donors are 50% men and 50% women, but since women are more likely than men to be anemic or underweight, it stands to reason that more of the eligible donors are men.  In other words, the market for men’s blood has not really been explored as much as it should be.  Perhaps blood-mobiles should spend a bit more time at sporting events, BBQs, and sporting goods stores. 

Another idea would be to have a massive blood drives on Election Day and Yom Ha’atzmaut.  On these days people are easy to find (voting areas on Election Day, BBQ areas on Yom Ha’atzmaut), people have time to spare, and civic responsibility is in the air.  I know what you’re thinking; these are sacred vacation days.  But if these days are as effective as I hope, then it may be worthwhile to give the workers even five times the amount of vacation days for every one they work and still come out on top.

Have you given blood in Israel?  How was it?  What would make you give more blood on a regular basis?


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