NEW YORK — Facebook is no longer just a place to connect with former high school buddies; the social media giant now wants to make it easier for you to connect with blood banks, too.
On Wednesday, Facebook launched a blood donation feature in the United States to help users find places to donate blood in their area and be notified when a nearby blood donation center may be in need.
The feature allows users to sign up to be blood donors in the “about” section of their profiles and then receive notifications from blood donation centers. The tool comes just in time for summer, a season when blood donations are typically low.
“In five US cities, we’re going to put a notice right at the top of News Feed, asking people to register if they want to,” Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.
Those cities are Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington, but the feature will roll out nationwide in the coming months, according to Facebook.
“Then, if there’s a blood shortage in your city, our partners like the American Red Cross can notify you and give you an opportunity to donate,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us, we think, to help people contribute to each other in a way that’s really important.”
‘This could … change the blood banking system’
Similar blood donation tools have launched in India, Pakistan, Brazil and Bangladesh.
More than 35 million people have signed up to be blood donors on Facebook in countries where the donation feature is available, according to the social media giant.
Now, “taking the results that Facebook has achieved in Brazil and India and Pakistan, we can actually, conceptually, could double the number of blood donors in the United States,” Cliff Numark, senior vice president of the American Red Cross, told Gupta on Tuesday.
Each year, an estimated 6.8 million people in the United States donate blood, according to the American Red Cross.
“This could really totally change the blood banking system in America,” Numark said.
The blood donation feature hits close to home for Hema Budaraju, Facebook’s health product lead, who has seen the dire need for blood firsthand.
“Seven years ago, my dad was diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer, and he was undergoing extensive chemo,” Budaraju told Gupta on Tuesday.
As part of that chemotherapy, her father lost a lot of blood and needed transfusions daily for more than a week.
“We needed to go and find the donors,” Budaraju said. Many of those donors ended up being friends and relatives.
“Here in the United States, every two seconds, somebody needs blood,” she said. “The good news is that people are always willing to help. If you ask them, they’ll come by.”
The US blood donation feature is Facebook’s latest move to use its platform for public health efforts.