Facebook just expanded its blood-donation tool to the entire US

  • Facebook expanded its blood donation tool to the entire US on Tuesday. The company had previously been testing it in five cities.
  • The tool is also active in four other countries, Business Insider previously reported.
  • Local experts in India previously told Business Insider that, in their view, the tool was contributing to a black market because it allowed individuals to request blood.
  • The US version of the tool doesn’t let individuals request blood, however.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After making its first public entrance into the US this summer with a tool that pings people to donate blood during shortages, Facebook’s health team is expanding the effort nationwide.

Starting this week, anyone in the continental US will be able to mark themselves as a blood donor on Facebook, the company announced on Tuesday. The tool was previously only available to people in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Baltimore, and San Francisco. Hospitals, blood banks, and the American Red Cross will all be able to put out requests for blood using the feature.

Facebook said that more than 500 people made appointments to give blood with the American Red Cross while it was testing the tool in the US.

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Blood is used to rescue victims of car crashes and other emergencies as well as assist people in treating cancer, sickle cell disease, and other chronic illnesses. But shortages abound, because blood products can only be kept for a short amount of time, and people often don’t donate consistently.

“One of the real challenges is: how do we maintain a viable and thriving blood supply?” John Hackett, the vice president of applied research and technology for the diagnostics division of healthcare company Abbott, previously told Business Insider. “We badly need to recruit donors who will give regularly.”

Read more: Facebook is about to launch a tool in the US that pings you to donate blood when there are shortages

The problem is particularly severe overseas, where Facebook had already been offering the tool, Hema Budaraju, Facebook’s product director of health, told Business Insider in a February interview. In India, every week, thousands of users would flock to Facebook to ask their friends and family to give blood, she said.

Inspired by those pleas, Budaraju and her team rolled out an official Facebook blood donations tool in the country in 2017. The company later expanded the feature to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Brazil, where more than 35 million Facebook users signed up, Budaraju said.

Local experts in India previously raised serious concerns about the tool to Business Insider, including an allegation that black market blood peddlers were taking advantage of the tool to demand money or other rewards.

Read more: Health officials in India warn that Facebook’s blood donation tool risks fuelling a black market for blood

In the US, the system doesn’t allow individuals to put out requests for blood, unlike in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. That will help avoid some of the problems Facebook has encountered in those countries, such as individuals attempting to buy blood.

Facebook blood app

“Keeping people safe on our platform is a priority and staying ahead of those who try to misuse our service is led by our security and integrity teams,” Budaraju said in the February interview.

Eventually, the company hopes to move toward only allowing organisations to request blood in every country where the tool is operational, she said. But for now, because the infrastructure doesn’t yet exist to do so, they will continue to allow individual users to put out requests in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

Budaraju said the tool has already helped to facilitate tens of thousands of donations, saving lives by making it easier for people in need of safe blood to find willing donors with matching blood types. She said the company worked with blood banks in South Asia and Brazil to survey donors, and found that 20% of them said Facebook influenced them to give blood. The team has yet to publish those findings.

“The intent is to have a set of tools to increase awareness and to make it easy to donate blood,” Budaraju said.