SA National Blood Service calls for more donors amid ‘blood stock crisis’
In the lead-up to Mandela Day on 18 July, the South African National Blood Service has called for more South Africans to volunteer as donors. The nonprofit organisation has seen a drop in blood stock levels over the winter months.
The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) has warned of low blood stock levels over the winter holiday period, calling on more people to come forward as donors. The nonprofit organisation aims to maintain a five-day reserve for each blood group but has been struggling to keep levels above three days.
“We are in the midst of a blood stock crisis as levels continue to drop consistently. The frigid weather has affected the levels of donations, and that is why we are calling on all [those] willing and able to donate a unit of blood,” said Siemi Prithvi Raj, SANBS executive of donor services, marketing, communication and brand.
The closure of schools and universities for the holidays is partially responsible for the drop in donations, as many blood drives are held at these institutions, said SANBS spokesperson Khensani Mahlangu.
“Winter is typically a problem for us because the bulk of the blood that is collected is from … universities, as well as high schools … but that has also been compounded by the weather now and flu season,” she explained.
“If you show any symptoms of infection, like a cold or flu, you cannot donate blood, so that also drives our numbers further down.”
The SANBS must collect at least 3,500 units of blood each day to meet patients’ needs. Mahlangu said blood donations dropped during the Covid-19 pandemic and had yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“Worldwide, and especially in Africa, blood transfusion services are struggling quite a bit … We’re trying to claw our way back up, but unfortunately, this year I don’t think we’ve seen any numbers above five days [reserve], or even at five days,” she said.
“The best thing that could happen is that we get new donors, or any lapsed donors who maybe started donating a couple of years ago may consider coming back. That would be really helpful.”
The SANBS operates in every province but the Western Cape, which has its own service. With the approach of Mandela Day on 18 July, when people around the world take action to benefit their communities, the nonprofit organisation has urged South Africans to volunteer their time at donor centres.
Less than 1% of South Africans are active blood donors, Mahlangu said. These people carry a “big load”, supplying most of the country.
One such person was recently celebrated by the SANBS for providing his 281st blood donation. Dirk van der Westhuizen, a former magistrate living in Bela Bela, Limpopo, first became a blood donor in the late 1960s while living in Edenville, Free State.
“A good friend of mine in 1968 said to me to donate blood … I said, ‘No, I’m very, very afraid of needles.’ He said to me, ‘It hurts much more to remove a pimple’, I will not even feel the needle. And the rest is history,” he told Daily Maverick.
Van der Westhuizen has received nine medals for his service — one for every 25 donations — and is soon to be awarded his tenth.
“Every time I have donated blood, the next day you are feeling like a young man,” he said. “I don’t know why, but it is just like that. You’re feeling very, very good the next day.” DM