Dodged winter's woes? Here's why the South African National Blood Service needs you more than ever


Have you managed to steer clear of a cold or flu so far? Give your immune system a thumbs up, and then consider heading to your nearest health Donor Centre or Mobile Blood Drive to donate blood. Here's why.

Did you know blood stocks are affected by the season? This is because people are more prone to viral illnesses like influenza in the winter, and people can't donate when they have a cold or the flu. That means the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) relies on fit and healthy donors to give blood in time in order to keep the stocks of blood stable.

Once a person is well and has been off antibiotics for more than 7 days, they may donate again (you can donate every eight weeks). Regular donation is important because a unit of blood only lasts for 42 days. We chatted to Sini Subrayen from the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) to learn more.

What happens to your blood once you donate it?

Donated blood can be used in many different areas. Medical cases such as cancer treatment need about 27% of the supply, closely followed by obstetric and gynaecological cases such as childbirth, which require about 26%. The rest goes to surgical cases like cardiac surgery, paediatric cases like child leukaemia, orthopaedic cases like hip replacements, casualty cases and research.

Apparently every unit of blood can save up to three lives at a time. How is that possible?

Blood is made up of red cells, white cells and platelets that are suspended in plasma. By separating whole blood into these components and using only the particular component needed, it's possible to use a single donation to treat several patients.

Why is it so important to be a regular donor?

If you donate blood for the first time, your red blood cells will not get used. Your plasma gets quarantined until your next donation. If all tests come back negative after your second donation, the quarantined plasma from your first donation will be used.

This also applies if you haven't donated blood for a while.

Once you've donated thrice and your blood still tests negative for sexually transmissible diseases, all the components of your blood gets used. So the more regularly you donate, the better the chance of your donated unit getting used for all components.

How much blood do you collect - and is it enough?

SANBS aims to collect 3 200 units of blood a day to ensure a safe and sufficient supply, to meet the demands of our patients. But less than 1% of South Africans are active blood donors, so we’re always in need of more committed, regular volunteers to donate blood.

What does it take to be a donor?

If you're between the ages of 16 and 65, weigh more than 50 kg and lead a sexually safe lifestyle, you can come to a Donor Centre or Mobile Blood Drive and register as a blood donor. That's it!

When should someone not donate blood?

Patients who need blood have the right to receive blood that is as safe as possible and that will cause them no harm. Don't give blood if:

  • You have or may have contracted a sexually transmissible disease (STD) such as HIV or Syphilis that can be passed on to a patient through a blood transfusion.
  • Your lifestyle puts you at increased risk of contracting an infection that can be transmitted through your blood: for example, if you've had more than one sexual partner in the past six months, or if you've had sexual contact with someone whose sexual background is unknown to you.
  • You have ever injected drugs.
  • You are giving blood in order to get a free HIV/AIDS test.

If you think that your blood may be unsafe, another person's life may depend on your decision not to donate blood.

Why should I donate blood?

Every day, thousands of people would die if others did not donate their blood. The decision to become a safe blood donor means that you commit to participate in a vital community service which ultimately improves the quality of life for many. So donate if you can, and as regularly as you can. Safe blood saves lives!

The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.

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