All countries face challenges in making sufficient supplies of blood and blood products available and sustainable, while also ensuring the quality and safety of these products in the face of known and emerging threats to public health. Since 1975, the World Health Assembly (WHA) has highlighted the global need for blood safety and availability. WHA resolutions 63·12, 58·13 and 28·72, The Melbourne Declaration on 100% Voluntary Non-Remunerated Donation of Blood and Blood Components and WHO Global Blood Safety Network recommendations have reaffirmed the achievement of ‘Self-sufficiency in blood and blood products based on voluntary non-remunerated blood donation (VNRBD)’ as the important national policy direction for ensuring a safe, secure and sufficient supply of blood and blood products, including labile blood components and plasma-derived medicinal products. Despite some successes, self-sufficiency is not yet a reality in many countries. A consultation of experts, convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) in September 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland, addressed the urgent need to establish strategies and mechanisms for achieving self-sufficiency. Information on the current situation, and country perspectives and experiences were shared. Factors influencing the global implementation of self-sufficiency, including safety, ethics, security and sustainability of supply, trade and its potential impact on public health, availability and access for patients, were analysed to define strategies and mechanisms and provide practical guidance on achieving self-sufficiency. Experts developed a consensus statement outlining the rationale and definition of self-sufficiency in safe blood and blood products based on VNRBD and made recommendations to national health authorities and WHO.