By Charndré Emma Kippie

Each year we commemorate World Blood Donor Day on 14 June. This worldwide celebration is an acknowledgement of the millions of global citizens who dedicate a few hours each year to making voluntary blood donations – to save the lives of patients in dire need of transfusions. 

World Blood Donor Day raises awareness surrounding the need for safe blood, to honour blood donors who make these transfusions possible, and to educate communities about how to become eligible donors.


Saving millions of lives

Blood products and transfusions help save millions of lives every year, whether it be patients who have been injured and have lost a lot of blood, or those who have bleeding disorders such as hemophilia, or even cancer patients. 

In addition, blood products can help patients who are fighting off life-threatening conditions live longer, with a higher quality of life, and support critical surgical and medical procedures.

Donating a unit of blood can save the lives of up to three patients who need blood. Regular blood donors make sure that the safety of blood is maintained, and make it possible for the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) to collect enough safe blood to meet the demand.

South African National Blood Service (SANBS)

SANBS is a not-for-profit organisation. Meaning that should SANBS stop operating, for any reason whatsoever, all its assets would be required to be transferred to another organisation with similar goals and objectives.

Providing a most essential service within our country, SANBS is rated amongst the best in the world with regards to the provision of blood and blood products, as well as all research and training provided by the organisation. Furthermore, it is regarded as a key role player in the provision of support to countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

The organisation operates across all of South Africa, with the exclusion of the Western Cape, which has its own dedicated organisation known as The Western Cape Blood Service (WCBS). This non-profit regional health organisation supplies safe blood and blood products to all communities in the region, from Cape Town all the way up to George. 

How to become a donor 

The SANBS values all blood donors who contribute to fulfilling the lifesaving mission of the organisation. Donors go through a comprehensive screening test, get their blood pressure and iron level checked, and receive counselling before becoming eligible for donation. However, to make sure that donors and prospective donors are well-educated on the donation process, SANBS stipulates the following rights and responsibilities of all donors: 

Donor’s rights

Donors must be treated with courtesy and must respect all SANBS employees and volunteers, and have the right to a respectful blood collection experience in which they receive prompt, transparent, and clear information about the donation process. Donors have the right to be assured that SANBS meets all quality standards regarding collection and handling of blood donations. All donor information must be handled with confidentiality, privacy, and security. All donors also have the right to know what intentions SANBS has and to be assured that donations are used for their intended purposes.

Donor’s responsibilities

Consideration and respect: You are responsible for being considerate and respectful of other donors and SANBS staff by maintaining civil language and conduct in your interactions at all times. The SANBS does not tolerate any form of abuse or harassment of other donors or staff at its collection sites.

Eligibility: You are responsible for providing accurate and complete information to SANBS regarding eligibility to donate blood.

Following instructions: You are responsible for following post-collection instructions as given. Please ask questions or tell administrators if you do not understand the instructions and notify the organisation about any health issues after leaving the donation site.

Different Ways of Donating 

There are 4 main ways that potential donors will be able to donate their blood and assist in sustaining the healthcare system.

Whole blood donations: This involves donating a unit of blood for a patient, which takes 30 minutes. This unit of blood can, then, be processed into 3 components, namely red cells, platelets and plasma. The components are used to save 3 lives. 

Platelets donations: Platelet donation is a simple process that takes 90 minutes. Platelets play a vital role in blood clotting and prevention of excess blood loss. The blood is processed through a cell separator, which retains the platelets and returns the other blood components to the donor’s system. This procedure enables people to donate platelets every month.

Plasma donations​: This is a similar process to that of platelet donation, and takes 90 minutes to complete. The blood is processed through a cell separating machine that filters out the plasma and returns the red cells and other cellular components to the donor’s system. Plasma can be donated every 2 weeks where possible.

Autologous donations: This is a specialised form of donation, where you may donate blood for yourself before a pre-planned surgery. Designated donations, where your family and friends donate blood for you, may also be arranged. 


Minimum requirements to be a blood donor

  • You are between the ages of 16 and 75 years old, for first time donors.
  • You weigh a minimum of 50 kgs (and platelets a minimum of 55 kgs)
  • You are in good health.
  • You lead a low risk lifestyle.
  • You consider your blood safe for transfusion.
  • You have had a balanced meal within four hours of donating blood.
  • You have not donated blood in the last 56 days (and platelets in the last 14 days.)
  • Your pulse is between 50-100 regular beats per minute.
  • Your blood pressure is below 180 systolic (first number) and below 100 diastolic (second number) (180/100mmHg) and above 100 systolic (first number) and above 60 diastolic  (second number) (100/60mmHg).
  • Your haemoglobin level is 12.5 g/dL or above.



Do you know your blood group?

  • All donors belong to one of four blood groups: A, B, AB or O.
  • You are also categorised as either Rh positive or Rh negative. 
  • In total, there are eight different main blood groups.
  • It is important to note that not all blood groups are actually compatible with each other, and the success of modern transfusion medicine always depends on categorizing and matching up patients and donors correctly.
  • Fun Fact: The O blood group is the universal blood type, and can be administered to patients of any blood group.



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