Not in vein: New facility takes South Africans through 'journey of the blood'

South Africans who are curious about what happens at blood banks will now be able to experience the process first hand.

04 June 2021 - 06:00 By sipokazi fokazi
A new state-of-the-art blood lab at the South African Blood Transfusion Service will allow people to 'walk the journey of blood' from the initial donation to the final process before it's transfused to patients.
A new state-of-the-art blood lab at the South African Blood Transfusion Service will allow people to 'walk the journey of blood' from the initial donation to the final process before it's transfused to patients.
Image: Supplied

South Africans who are curious about what happens at blood banks will now be able to experience the process first hand.

Thanks to a new state-of-the-art facility that will allow the public to “walk through” the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) labs — but without physically entering the lab space.

The new facility, which is based at the SANBS’s headquarters in Mount Edgecombe, Durban, is the world’s first “journey of the blood” facility. Its interactive screens and glass ceilings that provide a full view of what happens in the facility from when the blood is donated, to testing and processing, before it is ready to be transfused to sick patients who need blood.

The launch of the facility, which was presided over by SANBS’s chairperson Ansie Ramalho and its CEO Ravi Reddy, will not only raise awareness about the importance of blood donation and transfusion, but also aims to ensure that KZN always has enough blood.

The 7,500m2 building boasts a drone port on its roof and is solar-powered with a borehole water system. It features a restaurant where donors can dine before and after donating blood.

Reddy said: “This first-of-its-kind ‘journey of blood’ destination centre highlights the operating philosophy at SANBS, which is underpinned by a focus on long-term sustainability, risk mitigation and a values-based culture centred on donors, staff and patients.

“The blood-donor fraternity is tremendously excited and our team is eager to share their expertise with our valued donors. Regulators, scholars and students are also welcome to experience the journey with us.”

According to the World Health Organisation, safe blood products and transfusions are critical aspects of healthcare and public health.

“They save millions of lives and improve the health and quality of life of many patients every day. The need for blood is universal, but access to blood for all those who need it is not,” the WHO said.

SANBS, a non-governmental organisation, supplies more than a million blood products annually.

The blood is processed into its constituent components such as red blood cells, plasma and platelets. In principle, a single blood donation can save up to three lives.

Donors can donate their blood up to six times a year. Those who are blood group A and AB donors between the ages of 18 and 65 may donate plasma every two weeks to a maximum of 24 times a year.

A new laboratory at South African National Blood Service will see KZN's blood needs met, while also providing awareness about the importance of blood donation.
A new laboratory at South African National Blood Service will see KZN's blood needs met, while also providing awareness about the importance of blood donation.
Image: supplied

Ramalho said the launch of the lab “highlights our continuous dedication to being sustainable innovators in the industry through our facilities that will benefit our staff, donors and visitors”.

“The lab will ensure we meet blood demands in KwaZulu-Natal and improve community health through various studies with renowned scientists. In terms of sustainability it contributes to our vision of greening SANBS which is in line with the UN 2030 sustainable development goals.

“This further underpins our commitment to ensure that SANBS not only becomes the cornerstone of healthcare in SA but all over the world,” added Ramalho.

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