News

New research by University of Sydney Professor on Incentives, Altruism and Blood donation makes an impact

28 May, 2013

Research published in the internationally acclaimed journal Science last Friday May 24 by a team of economists – including School of Economics Professor Robert Slonim – raises the question, what if we were offered an economic reward or gift to donate? What effect might economic incentives have on donor numbers, blood supply and blood safety?

We’re all familiar with Red Cross advertising campaigns encouraging blood donation. The latest Red Cross advertising campaign appeals to our altruistic natures: when someone needs a hand, “It’s what we do: you roll up your sleeves and pitch in”.

Research published in the internationally acclaimed journal Science last Friday May 24 by a team of economists – including School of Economics Professor Robert Slonim – raises the question, what if we were offered an economic reward or gift to donate? What effect might economic incentives have on donor numbers, blood supply and blood safety?

Official WHO policy discourages the provision of incentives to donors because of the belief that donors who respond purely for economic gain may be more likely to engage in risky activities which make them more likely to carry transfusion-transmissible infections.

 

In “Economic Rewards to Motivate Blood Donations”, Lacetera, Macis and Slonim refute these claims, arguing it is time to revisit the question of incentives for blood donation.

 

Of the 19 items studied in fieldwork in which donors were offered actual rewards for showing up at blood centres to donate blood, 18 of the items offered resulted in significantly increased blood donation rates. Furthermore, Slonim points out that by providing rewards to everyone who showed up, instead of only those who donated, the risk of false or misleading answers in questionnaires in order to gain the rewards should be greatly reduced.

 

The rewards differed from vouchers and coupons, to t-shirts & a day of paid leave. The only reward that failed to increase donation rates was the offer of a cholesterol check.  As the reward value increased, so too did the number of donations made. Importantly, and contrary to WHO concerns, there was no correlation between the offer of economic incentive and the quality of blood supplied.

 

While Lacterera, Macis and Slonim recognise the case studies involved one-time ‘payments’, their paper encourages further investigation and debate around the safety of blood donation particularly in developing countries; ethical concerns and alternative nonpecuniary rewards; and whether  incentives will increase blood supply in the long-term. Not only do their findings present real and important implications for policy and future research but they highlight the success of one-time economic incentives for bolstering donor numbers and blood supplies “at a specific time of greatest need”.

 

 

Contact:Vanessa Holcombe
Phone: 61 2 9351 6071
Email:vanessa.holcombe@sydney.edu.au

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