Africa battles plunging blood donations since Covid outbreak

Johannesburg – Blood donation has fallen by 17% in Africa since the Covid-19 pandemic started last year.

In South Africa, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) reports that blood donations decreased by 102 000 pints from April 2020 to March this year, compared with 2019.

This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) marked World Blood Donor Day under the theme “Give blood and keep the world beating”, to highlight the essential contribution blood donors make to save lives.

“Disruptions to the steady supply of safe blood can be life-threatening. We deeply appreciate the selfless, life-saving gesture of blood donors and urge countries to set up and reinforce systems to increase voluntary blood donations,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

Communications officer for SANBS Khensani Mahlangu said pre-Covid, average donations a month stood at 77 000, representing only 1% of the population.

She said they therefore encouraged especially the youth to give back this Youth Month.

“It is essential for the youth to become regular blood donors as the more established old group of donors are decreasing. Having donors around the age group 16-35 years increases the probability of retaining them on our donor panel for longer. In many societies around the world, young people form a large sector of the population, our country is no exception to this.

“More so, the South African youth is no stranger to activism and uniting for great causes. Heeding the call to give blood and inspire others to keep the world beating by doing the same should not be an issue for us,” said Mahlangu, adding that it is fitting that World Blood Donor Day falls in Youth Month in this country. She added that though the need for blood transfusions for accident victims and elective procedures might have reduced, blood transfusions were still required to support other medical interventions.

“Under normal circumstances, trauma [accidents] only contribute to about 4% of blood transfused to patients. “The bulk of blood transfusions are carried out for obstetrics and gynaecology, and medical patients who have cancer and renal patients. These patients need blood transfusions as they continue to receive their treatments despite Covid-19,” said Mahlangu.

She said especially those with blood group O are encouraged to donate as it represents a universal donor and can be given to blood groups A, AB and O patients.

For those afraid of donating for fear of contracting the deadly virus, Mahlangu said that the Covid-19 cannot be passed or received through blood.

But she also stated that though Covid had not been proven to be transmitted through blood, persons exposed to Covid-19 are discouraged from blood donation as a measure to protect staff and other donors.

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