17 February 2005
The government, the SA National Blood Service (SANBS) and an expert committee have agreed on a new risk-rating model for blood donations, following the blood service’s admission in December that was using race and sexual orientation to profile blood donors.
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang gave the SANBS until the end of January to revise their risk model to identify the profile of a safe donor without taking race into account.
The SANBS said profiling “was just one of the many factors” used to assess risk to recipients, and that donors were placed in categories to determine their risk profile.
Health Department spokesperson Sibani Mngadi said the most significant threat to the safety of blood was posed by the window period during which currently available laboratory tests could not detect the presence of viruses such as HIV and hepatitis.
The new risk model aims to minimise the risk currently posed by the window period, using the donor’s status as a primary risk indicator. This meas that first-time donors will donate blood for the screening of transmissible diseases.
“After a donor has donated more than three times, it is accepted that the risk due to the window period has been significantly reduced, and his or her red cells can be used for treatment”, Mngadi explained.
This group of donors is regarded as “low risk”, while those who have donated more than seven units of blood in the previous 24 months are regarded as “very low risk” donors whose blood can be used for all types of treatment.
Mngadi said that although those who met the necessary health criteria were accepted as donors, all donated blood would be screened for transmissible diseases before being processed for transfusion services.
“Blood from the three risk groups will continue to be stringently tested every time the individual donates, and donors are encouraged to avoid risky behaviour”, he said.
Nucleic Acid Technology (NAT) screening technology will also be introduced to reduce the current window period in the transfusion service.
Mngadi said the implementation of the new risk model and NAT would begin immediately, but that, due to infrastructural and technological obstacles, the new risk model would effectively be in place within the next six months.
A campaign to explain the new model to hospitals, clinics, doctors and the country’s current blood donor base is being planned.