The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) is taking precautionary measures for blood donation amidst the rising cases of coronavirus.

By Lwazi Maseko and Gemma Gatticchi

The SANBS (South African National Blood Service) says that any donor whose blood that shows signs of a virus will be prevented from giving blood for up to a year.

This is according to Gugu Mathebula, a SANBS donor care officer and a registered nurse who spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about coronavirus concerns during a blood drive at Wits University on March 10 and 12.

“[A coronavirus patient’s] blood would not go to someone else because our machines are very sensitive. Even if you have the flu, if the machine is not sure about something then it defers you,” said Mathebula.

The SANBS released a statement on Facebook on March 10 which said that they would be enforcing “precautionary deferrals for individuals who may be affected,” with the coronavirus. According to their website, a deferral is a waiting period applied when a donor does not qualify to donate within the specified time period due to various health related issues. Mathebula told Wits Vuvuzela that a person can be deferred for up to a year if their blood is found to be unsuitable.

According to the Advancing Transfusion and Cellular Therapies Worldwide website, “individuals are not at risk of contracting COVID-19 through the blood donation process or via a blood transfusion, since respiratory viruses are generally not known to be transmitted by donation or transfusion.”

Mathebula added that if the donor is found to be fit to donate blood, the SANBS takes three samples of the donor’s blood to test specifically for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis.

The SANBS has urged the public through a statement released on Facebook on March 12, that “if you are feeling unwell you are encouraged to delay donation”. The statement said that the SANBS is unable to test for the coronavirus and the test for “COVID-19 is not done on blood, but on throat swabs and sputum samples”.

Mathebula said that despite the increase in cases of coronavirus cases in South Africa (currently at 16), the SANBS have not seen a shortage in blood donations.

Zinhle Ngwenya, a first-year BA student said she has been donating since she was in Grade 10 but is worried about contracting the coronavirus when donating blood. “A health care worker could accidentally cough on me while she is putting the needle in my arm, and that is what’s preventing me from giving blood,” said Ngwenya.

Callum Abelho, a final year geographical sciences student who would regularly donate blood at Wits said he is not worried about contracting coronavirus through blood donations but rather from travelling. “I’m meant to go to England and I’m worried about that. I haven’t got it, so I’m safe for now. I don’t even know if I will go there this year, I might wait until next year.” Abelho said his family lives in England and was hoping to go visit them during the upcoming university break at the end of March.

Mathebula said that there are requirements which donors have to meet in order to donate blood. Donors have to fill in a questionnaire which includes questions about their recent travel history, their medical conditions and lifestyle. The nurse then goes through the questionnaire with the potential donor and checks his or her blood pressure and iron levels to make sure that donation is permitted.

According to Mathebula the coronavirus is highly preventable. “I just think there’s a fear that’s going around. It’s treatable at the moment. Wash your hands, practice hygienic measures, sneeze into your arm. It’s the same as flu. Repercussions of it are treatable and manageable,” she said.

The SANBS has urged the public to contact the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) if they suspect a risk of infection.

FEATURED IMAGE: The SANBS is going through with scheduled blood drives despite the presence of coronavirus in South Africa. Photo: File