Blood donation

Blood donation saves lives and helps patients recover from illnesses, injuries and operations. Like many other countries, South Africa has a shortage of donors and the South African National Blood Service, the body tasked with ensuring a steady and safe supply of blood for medical purposes, works hard to increase the number of blood donors.

“Giving blood costs you nothing but is absolutely priceless for the patient in need of blood,” says Silungile Mlambo, Chief Marketing Officer for SANBS. “Nobody can make a greater impact than saving someone else’s life and that is what you do when you donate blood.”

Donated blood is used for blood transfusions in cases of serious injury, surgeries, child birth, anaemia, blood disorders, cancer treatments, and many others.

Who can donate blood and how often?

You can donate blood if you:

  • are between 16 and 60 years old;
  • weigh at least 50kgs (55kgs for platelet donation); and
  • are in good health, lead a low risk lifestyle and consider your blood safe for transfusion.

“The beauty of blood donation is that virtually anyone can do it,” says Mlambo. “You don’t need to have money or live in a fancy house or have a graduate degree or a fancy car.” You can donate blood every 56 days and SANBS encourages donors to commit to regular blood donation – at least four donations during a two-year period.

And you don’t have to worry about the blood you lose during a donation. “There is enough blood in the body to donate it without any ill effects,” advises Mlambo. “The body makes new blood after donation.”

What to expect on the day you donate

The blood donation process can be broken down into four steps:

1. Registration – you will fill out a questionnaire about your general health.

2. Medical history and mini-physical – a nurse will go through the questions with you and check your blood pressure and haemoglobin (iron) levels.

3. Donation – you will sit in a comfortable chair and the nurse will prepare your arm and then take 480ml of blood. It is a myth that giving blood hurts – it is no more than one needle prick. 

4. Refreshments – you must increase your fluid intake after donation.


“The whole process from arrival at the facility to the time you leave takes less than an hour,” says Mlambo. “The donation itself may take as little as 8–10 minutes. Currently, fewer than 1% of South Africans donate blood even though it demands so little of their time.”

Blood Donor Month

Blood Donor Month, held in June every year, aims to raise awareness about donating blood to increase supply. This year the theme is ‘Blood Connects us All’ and the slogan is ‘Share Life, Give Blood’, highlighting that giving blood shows that you care for others.

 “One of the aims of the month is to encourage younger people who might be a bit nervous or unsure about giving blood to start donating, so that the donor population stays strong,” says Mlambo. “It also highlights that donations need to be regular to keep stocks and quality of blood donations high.”

Did you know?

• There is no artificial substitute for blood so when you give blood you give something vital that can’t be made – and it costs you nothing!

Published in Sunday Times Healthy Times Winter 2018