Donating blood for the first time? Here’s what you should know.

June is blood donor monthJune is dedicated to the people who selflessly save lives every day – blood donors. And, while it may not be the simplest procedure to agree to (especially if you haven’t donated before), donating blood is crucial to the lifelines of thousands of people who need the gift of life that a unit of blood provides.

Unlike limb prosthetics and imitation eyeballs, there is no artificial substitute for blood. So, blood donors are an essential part of our world who give something that can’t be made.

According to the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), donating just a unit of blood can save up to three lives of those in dire need of it.

Dr Dominique Scott from Johannesburg has said, “The need for blood never stops, so it is important that we use initiatives such as the Blood Donor Awareness Day to highlight the importance of donating in order to save lives and donate whenever possible.”

We understand that having a needle inserted into your body to suck up your blood may seem a little terrifying. But worry not, we’ve done the research to help first-time donors along the way to a stress-free and gratifying blood donation procedure.

Who needs your blood?


We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but the hard truth is that the blood supply situation in South Africa is currently at a critical low. In fact, there are less than 3000 units of blood available around the country (as of April 2017).

SANBS’ National Marketing Manager, Silungile Mlambo said, “The situation is critical. We need South Africans – active donors, lapsed donors, and potential donors – to stand together right now to bolster the national blood stock.”

There are lots of people who need your blood and there are many reasons as to why they need it.

How often do you hear of people in the following conditions? These are some of the people who need blood to give them another chance at life:

  • Women who suffer severe bleeding during pregnancy, or from complications;
  • Patients with severe anaemia;
  • Accident and trauma patients;
  • Patients being treated with radiation (cancer, for example);
  • Patients undergoing surgery;
  • Patients with severe infections or liver disease;
  • Patients with bleeding disorders.


Minimum requirements for blood donation


Blood is only collected from voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors who lead safe lifestyles. These donors must meet the minimum criteria for donating blood, which are as follows:

Weigh at least 50KG


The volume of blood in one’s body is proportional to body weight. To protect donors from feeling nauseous or fainting, donors need to weigh more than 50KG.

Between the ages of 16 and 65


Before donating blood, you are required to fill out a questionnaire. (SANBS has noted that children are discouraged from submitting personal details.) Children between the ages of 16 and 18 years need to obtain their guardian’s consent before providing any information or agreeing to blood donation.

Be in good health


If you have any health concerns, it’s best to discuss these with your GP before opting to donate blood.

Leading a sexually safe lifestyle


Safe sex is having sexual contact while protecting yourself and your partner against sexually transmissible infections. Using condoms, being tested regularly, and reducing the number of sexual partners you have decreases the risk of transmission of STIs.

Consider your blood safe for transfusion


You are the person who is most aware of what affects your health. Consider your lifestyle habits and any activities that you suspect could affect the quality of your blood for patients or the quality of your blood donation experience.

Have you travelled abroad recently in particular to high-risk, infection epidemic countries? Have you had a late night out accompanied by lots of alcohol and a few hate-to-mention decisions? Are you anaemic or have you been feeling weak and/or light headed recently?

Remember if anything related to your health or otherwise is making you think twice about donating your blood, discuss it with your GP or the nurse at the donation site.

You may only donate every 56 days.


This is to ensure that your body has had plenty of time to regenerate the red cells since your last donation.

donating blood is easy and saves livesBlood donation procedure


The procedure itself takes approximately 30 minutes, and is designed with safety for both the donor and receiver as a priority.

You will be asked to:

  1. Complete a form containing personal details.
  2. Answer health, social, and lifestyle questions.
  3. Follow up your answers with a one-on-one interview.
  4. Have your iron level, blood pressure, and pulse rate checked.
  5. Donate one unit of blood (480ml).


Did you know?

A typical adult has a blood volume of approximately 5 litres

In what circumstance would you be an unsuitable donor?


As critical as the current blood supply situation is, there are a few reasons that would make you an unsuitable candidate for blood donation.

You can’t donate blood right now if you:

  • Have low or high blood pressure;
  • Have low iron levels;
  • Are pregnant;
  • Have had surgery recently; or
  • Are taking certain medications such as Roacutaine, Misoprostol or chemotherapy drugs. (Click here for the full medication deferral list.)

Your blood is not safe for transfusion if you:

  • Are HIV or AIDS positive;
  • Have had sex with a commercial sex worker in the past six months;
  • Worked as a commercial sex worker in the past six months;
  • Have been treated for a sexually transmitted disease in the past twelve months;
  • Had more than one sexual partner in the past 6 months;
  • Had sex with someone whose sexual background is unknown to you; or
  • Have ever injected with drugs or substances not prescribed by a doctor.


Pre and post-donation Tips


For the best possible experience, do your best to keep your health up before and after the donation procedure.

Before heading to the donation site, eat a balanced meal and drink plenty of fluids to keep your energy up.

After blood donation, eat well and avoid any strenuous exercise. Avoid smoking for at least 30 minutes as this will increase the risk of you feeling light-headed.

And, finally, give your arm the rest it deserves by not lifting any heavy objects.

Did you know?

It takes approximately 24 hours for your body to replace donated blood – if one consumes sufficient fluids.

Where can you donate blood in South Africa?


There are various fixed and mobile donor sites around the country. To find the one closest to you, visit the SANBS site finder.

Do you still have questions surrounding your health and donating blood? We don’t blame you!

Our support centre team is ready to answer your questions. Simply call us on 0860 00 21 58, or pop us a message and we’ll get right back to you.

Donating blood for the first time? Here’s what you should know.
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