'No discrimination' with new blood equipment

The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) has received two testing instruments as part of efforts to exclude racial profiles from its blood safety procedures, the service said on Tuesday.

Last year, the service was ordered by the Department of Health to develop blood safety procedures less reliant on a racial profile after it was revealed that it considered black donors’ blood a higher risk than other race groups.

This was based on statistics showing a higher number of black people testing positive for HIV/Aids, which can be transmitted by blood, than other race groups.

Staff are being trained to use the two instruments, which test individual blood donations for HIV, the hepatitis C virus and the hepatitis B virus, and they should be operational by September, said SANBS chief executive Anthon Heyns.

The new system reduces the window-period risk of transmitting diseases through a blood transfusion.

A window period is a time when HIV is not detected in a blood sample, but can be passed on through contact with the blood.

“We won’t use race as a risk indicator,” Heyns said. “It is a whole new system that we are implementing. We are quite excited about it.”

The new testing method will be coupled with a revised educational campaign, which begins next month.

However, racial classification will remain on the forms that donors have to complete.

This is to evaluate its recruitment process and to make sure the service meets its commitments to representing the whole population in its blood supplies, Heyns said.

When asked what his message is for black donors, Heyns said: “They must come, and come again.
We want every person to donate and we will use the blood. There will be no discrimination. We are looking for them and will need all of them. We need them now.”

His only rider is that those who donate blood commit themselves to blood donations over a long term and do not use the service just for an HIV/Aids test.

“These campaigns will seek to develop new, highly informed donor communities to encourage the recruitment of low-risk, first-time donors across the country and to protect the safety of the blood supply through donor retention.”

Research showed that long-term donors tend to pursue healthy lifestyles, including safe sex, and are more likely to remain free of transmissible infections.

“Blood donation is a precious gift that saves thousands of lives each year,” Heyns said.—Sapa

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