30 September 2005

Blood costs up by 10%

No racial profiling is to be used any more by blood transfusion services in South Africa – but will the state be picking up the resulting 10% cost increase?

No racial profiling is to be used by any of the blood transfusion services in the nine provinces in South Africa as from Monday. But will the state be picking up the estimated 10 - 20% cost increase in blood products?

The dropping of racial profiling for potential donors was announced by the National Blood Committee, which consists of government representatives and representatives of the various blood transfusion services.

New test – increased safety for consumer
"The new tests that will have to be performed on all donated blood, will contribute to an increase of 10% in the overall cost of blood products to the consumer," says Marika Champion, public relations officer of the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service. "But it also has to be remembered that the state is the largest consumer of products from the transfusion services, so it will, in fact pick up a large part of this increased cost."

"The new test, a nucleic acid amplification test, which will be able to pick up DNA- and RNA strains of HIV much earlier than before, will cost approximately R100 more per donor than was previously the case. But safety is of paramount importance," says Champion.

"It does not appear as if the government will be picking up the bill for the increased cost of the testing," says Champion.

Even though all blood was tested in the past, the risk that someone who was HIV-positive could test negative during the so-called window period. The new tests would appear to reduce the possibility of HIV transmission to recipients of blood transfusions.

"It is also cheaper than it was when the technology was originally developed," says Dr Arthur Byrd, the director of the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service (WPBTS). "The new technology was initially a bit slower, more expensive and labour-intensive, but things have now been automated. But the cost of the new tests is still higher than it was when the old tests were still used."

The use of race to determine the safety of the blood of potential donors, caused an uproar after President Mbeki's blood was discarded when he chose not to fill in the prescribed questionnaire.

Categorisation previously used
Previously, eight of the nine blood transfusion services used categorisation as part of their approach to minimise HIV transmission to recipients of blood transfusions, according to Byrd. This was not the case in the Western Cape, though.

"The reason for previously categorising blacks as high risk, was the result of the prevalence of HIV and hepatitis in the donor population," according to Dr Robert Crookes, medical director of the SANBS at the time when Mbeki's blood was rejected.

But race was certainly not the only factor that was considered – it was important whether someone was a regular, a first-time or a lapsed donor. The area from which they came, their gender, as well as lifestyle issues were considered.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, September 2005)

No more racial profiling for blood donors


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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