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French medical student shares why she became a blood donor

We also look at who can give blood in France - and how to do it

Jeanne Labrunie, 19, is a medical student at Université Paris Cité and sees first hand how giving blood can save lives Pic: New Africa / Shutterstock / Jeanne Labrunie

The first time I considered becoming a blood donor was when I started medical school.

I saw first-hand how giving blood really does make a difference in so many ways, and can save lives.

Having made the decision to do it, I talked to friends who had already donated blood to find out what it was like and what steps to take, and then went on to the main website of the Etablissement français du sang (EFS) to get all the details.

It is very easy to apply to be a donor: find an appointment at your nearest donation centre via the website, and follow the steps. It is well laid out and simple to follow.

There are some restrictions (see below), depending on your age or if, for example, you are seriously underweight. 

To make sure you can donate, part of the process is to fill in a questionnaire. 

It includes lots of information about your health and medical background, so it is pretty comprehensive.

Generally, if you are aged between 18 and 70 and weigh over 50kg you are likely to be eligible. 

If there is any reason why you cannot become a donor, they will let you know, so do not let that hold you back.

In some places, you can find an appointment on the same day but usually you have to wait a couple of weeks. It all depends on the days of the blood drives that have been organised in your area.

Read more: Are you benefiting from the free cancer screening available in France?

The donation only takes 10 mins, but wait times can be long

The first time I gave blood was at the donation centre at the Bichât hospital in Paris, not far from where I live. 

I went along with some friends and it was a great experience. Put it this way, it certainly did not put me off!

Once you arrive at the centre, there is no real paperwork except to present your ID to confirm your details.

Then there is a quick medical check before the donation session, which takes about 10 minutes.

After that, you rest for about 20 minutes, during which you can have a drink and chat with other donors.

After my first donation, I felt a little light-headed immediately afterwards, but it passed quickly. For me, the side- effects were not intense and did not limit my day.

As for the waiting time at the donation centre, it can be a bit long, depending on the day, so be prepared. 

It is best to allow half a day. That said, it goes quickly enough: you can take a book to read or talk with friends.

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My O-negative blood can help anyone

Most people have already heard that there are different blood types, so the blood you donate has to be matched with the blood type of the person who will receive it.

Once I had registered and donated, I discovered that my own blood type is O-negative, which makes me a ‘universal donor’. It means that the red blood cells from my donations can be given to patients with any blood type.

Only about 8% of the population have O-negative blood, but about 13% of hospital requests are for this type. 

That was a key factor in my decision to keep donating, because my blood type is always in demand and the reserves are surprisingly low.

I might need blood one day

I have now donated four times. Women can give up to four times a year, and men up to six times a year. 

I am doing it regularly because it is a way of helping people and saving lives without actually having to do very much. 

Another reason, if I am honest, is knowing that one day I might have a medical problem myself that could require a transfusion. It only seems fair that I give it to help those who need it now.

Some people might be nervous about giving blood but all the staff at the donation centre are there to help and reassure you. 

What is more, you can get immense satisfaction thinking of the good deed you will have done – just by giving your blood you could be saving three lives.

Having become a donor myself, I have also persuaded several friends and family members to do it too, which feels great. It is a small act that can make a big difference.

Who can be a donor in France?

Around 10,000 blood donations are required each day to treat patients in France.

You must be over 18 years old and under 70 to give blood, but there are a number of other criteria too, related to weight, medical history, tattoos and piercings, and sex life. 

The easiest way to know if you are eligible is to take the short survey on the EFS website (in French). 

As soon as you choose an option that makes you ineligible to give blood in France, an information box will pop up to tell you.

Restrictions if you spent time in the UK

One factor that disqualifies a donor is if they spent more than one year in total in the UK between January 1, 1980, and December 31, 1996. This is due to the outbreak of BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as ‘mad cow disease’) in the UK at the time. 

EFS says that if you fall into this category, there are other ways to support the blood drive. For example, you can donate your blood for non-therapeutic use (for teaching and medical research). Ask at a donation centre or find out more by contacting EFS.

Read more: Can British people banned from giving blood in France be organ donors?

Restrictions scrapped for gay men

Last year, France scrapped a rule that gay men cannot give blood if they have had sexual relations in the past four months. The change had been a long time in the making. 

Homosexual men were banned from giving blood in France in 1983 due to the AIDS epidemic. This ban was lifted in 2016, but on the condition that they had not had sex in the past 12 months. In 2019, this was shortened to four months.

Then-health minister Olivier Véran welcomed the change, saying at the time: “We are ending an inequality that was no longer justified.”

Spotlight on plasma donations

In June 2022, for the first time in its history, the EFS had to launch a life-saving emergency appeal for blood donations to deal with a historic drop in stocks.

Reserves fell below 90,000 blood bags – far short of the preferred stock level of 110,000.

To help make donating a smoother experience, the EFS launched a new website, while also setting a target of 10,000 daily donations, which it has carried forward into 2023.

This year, the organisation has also been putting the spotlight on plasma donations. 

After a digital campaign launched in July, it produced, for the first time, a film dedicated to this type of donation. 

According to a 2022 survey, only 37% of people in France feel adequately informed about plasma donation, compared to 71% for blood.

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