Safe Blood Starts With Me

The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) is responsible for the collection of over a million units of safe blood and blood products annually.

In order to achieve this mammoth task, SANBS staff is responsible for the recruitment and retention of regular, safe blood donors, who are essentially the lifeblood of our organisation. Strict procedures are in place to ensure that donors are responsible when pledging their support by donating blood, and are NOT giving blood to get a free AIDS test, but rather for the sole purpose of donating blood to help save a life.

The commitment of our blood donors ensures the safety of our blood supply. The Service attempts to encourage donors to give blood for purely altruistic reasons, (solely for the sake of helping others). People who participate in unsafe lifestyle behaviour (having casual sex, male-to-male sex, or taking intravenous drugs, etc) are encouraged not to donate blood and are not accepted as blood donors.

The blood donated by a volunteer blood donor is treated with the utmost respect, as each unit of safe donated blood is invaluable to the patient who is in dire need of the precious resource. Each unit of donated blood is subjected to strict and rigorous testing and processing procedures. Once blood groups are verified, testing for various infectious diseases (eg. HIV/AIDS, syphilis and hepatitis) are undertaken. However, the HI-virus is undetectable for a period of approximately two weeks (or longer), known as the window period.

-::- Low-risk blood donors -::-

The safer the source of donated blood, the safer the final product is likely to be. Voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors from low-risk populations who give blood regularly are the foundation of a safe and adequate blood supply.

A system of voluntary, regular, non-remunerated donation also enables more cost-effective use to be made of limited resources by reducing the volume of donated blood that has to be destroyed because of evidence of infectious disease markers.

Many countries have introduced legislation that allows blood donation only by voluntary non-remunerated donors. This is only achieved through the establishment of an effective programme of blood donor recruitment and retention, staffed by trained personnel, who are equipped with an efficient donor information, education and motivation programme.

It also sets down strict criteria for donor selection and screening to identify donors for deferral or exclusion, together with efficient blood donor record systems. The identification of donor populations at low risk for transfusion-transmissible infections, and the monitoring of transfusion-transmissible infections in both the general population and the donor population are also key elements of the strategy for blood safety.

The SANBS encourages South Africans to commit themselves to maintaining a safe blood supply for the country. Blood is essential in the treatment of many serious illnesses and it is of utmost importance that there is sufficient safe blood available for South African patients. Blood and blood products are used for open-heart surgery, burn victims, newborn babies and in the treatment of diseases such as leukaemia and cancer among others.

Give the Gift of Hope – give the Gift of Life – Give Blood

Did you know?

  • There are four major blood groups: O, A, B and AB.
  • Type O is the most common blood group and is always in demand.
  • Your body replaces liquid donated within 24 hours through fluid intake.
  • Every time your heart beats, 20% of your heart's output goes directly to your brain, carrying oxygen vital for survival. Between 40 and 45% of your blood is made up of red blood cells that carry this oxygen. The remaining 55 to 60% is plasma, a small proportion of white blood cells (which defend your body), clotting factors and platelets.
  • If every capillary, vein and artery in your body were placed end to end, they would cover a distance of 150 000 kilometres.
  • The average volume of blood in an adult body is 4 to 5 litres, or about 8% of the body weight.

-::- Never donate blood to have a "free HIV test"! -::-

Some South Africans still live with the misconception that they can get a free HIV test if they donate blood at one of the blood donation clinics around the country. This belief held by members of the public poses a risk to patients and is a constant challenge to the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), who are committed to the provision of sufficient, safe blood to patients who need a blood transfusion as part of their medical treatment.

The costs of HIV tests may be one of the factors that influence people's decision to approach a blood donation clinic in order to get a "free" test. Medical Director of the Inland Region of the South African National Blood Service, Dr Robert Crookes, said that members of the public must please not visit blood donation centres in order to have an HIV test. "The primary task of our organisation is to collect, process and supply safe blood and blood products to patients in need of this precious resource."

In order to protect the patient, blood is tested for various diseases that may be transmitted through blood transfusion. Each unit of donated blood is subjected to strict and rigorous testing and processing procedures. Once blood groups are verified, testing for various infectious diseases are undertaken (such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C). The result of the HIV test is not disclosed to the donor. Also, due to the sensitive testing techniques, false positive results may occur.

The HI virus is undetectable in the blood for a period of time after infection (which, depending on the individual could be about four weeks to three months, or even longer). This period is known as the window period. Therefore, donating blood purely to determine one's HIV status places the recipient at risk of infection.

Pre-counselling and post-counselling is also of vital importance to someone who suspects that they may be infected with the HI-virus. HIV tests should then be done through a doctor, health clinics or designated HIV testing centres around the country. (For information on the location of HIV testing centres, contact the AIDS Helpline on (011) 725-6710).

Under no circumstances should you give blood to determine your HIV status. The decision to donate blood should only be taken if one is healthy, over the age of sixteen, leads a sexually safe lifestyle and if one sincerely wishes to help a patient by donating blood.

People who participate in sexual behaviour that places them at increased risk (such as having casual sex or men who have sex with men) must please NOT donate blood. The commitment of our blood donors ensures the safety of our blood supply. SANBS encourages donors to give blood for purely altruistic reasons - solely for the sake of helping others.

For more information on blood donation or your nearest blood donor centre, call the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) toll free at 0800 11 9031 or visit

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