No more race classification for blood donations

The frequency of infection-free blood and not race will be used as the prime risk indictor when collecting or issuing blood, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) said on Friday.

However, for “sound medical reasons” donors will be asked—voluntarily—to indicate their ethnic group on donor questionnaires, said SANBS CEO Anthon Heyns in a statement.

“We can save lives by knowing this information. For example, some patients need blood that is much more likely to be obtained from a specific ethnic group,” said Heyns.

“We announced yesterday [Thursday] the introduction of a new model supported by the latest laboratory technology to individually test every unit of blood that is collected.
It uses the frequency of infection-free blood donations as the prime risk indicator and will ensure that all South Africans needing a transfusion will have access to safe blood,” Heyns said.

A donor’s ethnic group will be captured separately and allows the SANBS to call in a specific donor’s blood to meet a specific need.

Removing ethnicity from the questionnaire will make it virtually impossible to match donors with a rare blood type to patients who need that blood, particularly in medical emergencies, Heyns said.

This is an issue that faces not only international South African blood services, but other branches of medicine as well, such as bone-marrow registry and gene-pool transplants.

“However, I wish to state categorically that we will not reject a donor who chooses not to reveal his or her ethnic group. We are in ongoing discussions with the national Department of Health about this issue and we are sure that it will be resolved,” said Heyns.

The United Kingdom’s National Blood Service (NBS), the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks all recognise the importance of ethnicity when collecting blood, Heyns pointed out.

The NBS’s website said that when attempting to match a rare blood group, it is often useful to look within the same or a similar ethnic group.

It added that it needs to know the ethnic profile of its existing donors in order to monitor the accessibility of its services to all communities.

Heyns said the SANBS computer system has been programmed in accordance with the race-free model and cannot be used for racial classification of blood.

“This model has been fully explained to the Department of Health, which has said that it is ‘satisfied that this model is appropriate, does not compromise the rights of the donor or the patient and will ensure the delivery of sufficient safe blood for the country’.”—Sapa

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