State organ donor registries have more than 90 million people on their rolls, all told, but Ganikos said that many more are needed because only a small fraction of deaths actually result in a donation. Officials hope to increase the number of registered donors to 100 million.
Currently, only whole blood donations adequately meet the needs of public health, officials report. In 2007, for instance, 15.6 million units of blood were donated, exceeding the 14.4 million units that were transfused that year, according to the National Blood Collection and Utilization Survey Report compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
To close the donation gap in other areas, though, public health officials face a number of obstacles, but the main problem seems to be a lack of widespread knowledge about the need for donations and the relative ease of signing up to be a donor.
This is particularly true of donations of umbilical cord blood, which is rich in stem cells, said Nawraz Shawir, a public health analyst with the government's Blood Stem Cell Transplantation Program.
"There is not enough awareness out there about the possibility of umbilical cord blood donation," Shawir said. "The cord blood usually is discarded, unless the woman is aware of the great potential of this blood to help other patients."
Likewise, many people don't know how easy it is to sign up to be a bone marrow donor, said Nadya Dutchin, a national account executive at the Be the Match Registry maintained by the National Marrow Donor Program.
All a person has to do to become a potential marrow donor is sign a consent form and send in a cheek swab, Dutchin said. Their genetic code will be drawn from that swab and entered into the registry.
Seven of 10 people who need a blood stem cell donation cannot get one from a family member because they are not a close enough genetic m
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