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Donating blood runs in the family

22 September 2022
Blood donors "infect their networks with the ‘donor virus’". This is according to research by social scientist Eva-Maria Merz, professor at VU Amsterdam and researcher at Sanquin. Networks, upbringing, and social and economic background are important determinants of donating blood or plasma, she discovered. "Donating runs in the family."

Eva-Maria Merz, in her research on donorship, studies donor motivations, behaviour and donor networks. "Family members and friends encourage, consciously or unconsciously, donorship within their networks. Individual blood donation is enhanced by acquaintances who also donate. They set a good example."

Forty per cent of current donors come from a donor family with at least two generations of donors, Merz discovered. They save people who need a blood transfusion or plasma drug in the Netherlands - for example, in a serious accident, during cancer treatment, after childbirth or for treating a chronic disease.

In the Netherlands, only 2-3% of the adult population donates blood or plasma. This particular small group who often pass on donorship from generation to generation, influence people around them. "My research shows that donorship runs in the blood and, in addition, that acquaintances encourage each other to become donors too. The reverse is also true: If you don't have anyone close to you who donates blood or plasma, it is more likely that you will not be a donor either."

Whether people are donors has to do with a lot of factors, Merz’ research group discovered. "Virtually no one is against the social goals of being a donor. But that does not mean that everyone consciously chooses to become a donor or not. Donors, like everyone else, are embedded in an organisational, societal and cultural context. Origin, upbringing, education, environment, social and economic factors play a role whether or not a person signs up and comes to donate."

Merz advocates encouraging more conversation among people about donation. "Imagine a loved one of your own who is completely dependent on the altruism of others. Conversations about giving blood and organ donation are necessary to increase awareness and get people into action mode."