With only 1% of South Africans registered as active blood donors and blood banks running low, could SA be headed towards a blood shortage crisis?

South African National Blood Services (SANBS) spokesperson Khensani Mahlanngu said they miss daily collection targets because there are insufficient donors.

“The SANBS needs to collect 3500 units daily to maintain a stable blood supply. We are unfortunately currently not meeting those targets. The shortage of any blood group is a cause for concern. However, the blood group O donors are what we call the universal donors, and they are who we collect most of the blood from,” stated Mahlangu.

Low blood stocks not a crisis … yet

According to Mahlangu, despite the current low blood stocks, the country is not headed for a blood crisis, but there is an urgent need to increase stock levels.

“We currently have blood stocks to last 3.7 days. While the levels are currently not critically low, we need to increase levels to ensure that we have a stable blood supply should the demand increase. We are currently not headed for a crisis. The SANBS has faced challenges in previous months, owing to extreme pressure to keep blood stocks up while donations have been low. This trend is experienced by blood banks worldwide,” said Mahlangu.

The World Health Organisation states that the unavailability of blood has led to deaths and many patients suffering from ill-health. However, a stable base of regular, voluntary, unpaid blood donors can ensure an adequate, reliable supply of safe blood.

SAMA says we are heading for a blood crisis

But South African Medical Association (SAMA) spokesperson, Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, stated that the country could face a blood shortage crisis. 

“We are heading for a crisis. Blood transfusions save lives. We need lots of blood, especially the blood group O. As an organisation, we have not received any official reports, but our members have received direct reports from the SANBS,” said Mzukwa.

Mzukwa also stated that a blood shortage will affect the private and public sectors and could lead to avoidable hospital deaths.

“If there is a blood shortage, it means that lifesaving procedures, like resuscitation, can’t be performed. For example, if a stab patient presents to an emergency unit and there is no blood, that patient may die due to severe bleeding even though he managed to reach the hospital,” he said.

No blood shortages reported

But according to the spokesperson for the National Department of Health, Foster Mohale, at the moment, no public health facility in the country has so far reported any shortages of blood products.

Mzukwa further indicated that: “Blood is given to a clinically deserving patient in the form of a drip connected to the vein. There’s no waiting list for blood, but there are always emergencies when blood is urgently required. Blood donation is such a crucial gift because it saves lives, not only for strangers but your immediate family as well.”

Mahlangu said there are several reasons behind the reluctance, with only a handful willing to donate. 

Why are South Africans not donating blood?

“There are several reasons that people give for not donating. These include a fear of needles, the belief that they don’t have to donate because others are giving enough blood, general apathy towards blood donation, and even a lack of information about blood donation,” said Mahlangu.

She said, “We have consistent efforts running to educate potential donors about what it means to donate. Our social media platforms allow us to reach people more efficiently, and that is where we keep the conversation going.” 

According to Mahlangu, several factors have made it impossible for them to collect enough blood.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

“Our committed regular donors have always responded to calls for donations. However, the mass reintegration of people into their places of work has slowed traffic to donor centres and mobile blood drives. Adding to the problem has been our limited access to schools, colleges, and corporates where a majority of all blood is collected,” explained Mahlangu.

She further urged all eligible people to donate blood to consider doing so to continue saving more lives.

“Each year, millions of South Africans need blood transfusions to lead healthy lives. Who knows what people would have to do to get blood if it weren’t for voluntary blood donations? We can deliver lifesaving blood to the nation through the consistent support of our dedicated donors. We urge everyone willing and able to commit to helping us give others a second chance at life,” added Mahlangu.

Who can donate blood?

Here’s an eligibility checklist for potential donors:

  • Aged between 16 and 75
  • Weigh a minimum of 50kg
  • Are in good health
  • Lead a low-risk lifestyle
  • And have not donated blood in the last 56 days

Each year, the globe observes World Blood Donor Day on 14 June. This critical day aims to raise global awareness of the need for safe blood and blood transfusion products. It also highlights the crucial contribution voluntary and unpaid blood donors make to national health systems. – Health-e News