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Safety Program Cuts HIV-Tainted Blood Donations in S. Africa

Project included education efforts, closing clinics in high-risk areas

TUESDAY, Jan. 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A blood safety program in South Africa led to a major decline in the presence of AIDS-causing HIV in donated blood, a new study says.

The program included closing blood donor clinics in areas of high HIV prevalence, risk behavior education for staff and donors, and blood donor interviews.

The findings appear in the Feb. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

After the program was implemented, the prevalence of HIV in blood donations declined 50 percent, from 0.17 percent of donated blood in 1999-2000 to 0.08 percent in 2001-2002. The reduction was attributed to a drop in intermediate (4.9 percent to 3.3 percent) and high-risk (2.6 percent to 1.7 percent) donations, the study said.

The prevalence of HIV in first-time donors decreased by 45 percent, and donations from the majority black population decreased from 6.6 percent to 4.2 percent, the South African National Blood Service study found.

"In the long term, we believe that education of blood donors will be a key factor for ongoing blood safety. There is a need for a structured program that is culturally attuned and presented in the multiple languages in common use," the study authors wrote.

In an accompanying editorial, Robin Wood and Linda-Gail Bekker of the University of Cape Town discuss the consequences of new blood safety policies in South Africa, where an estimated 5.3 million people (11.4 percent of the population) are infected with HIV.

"This crisis in South Africa highlights several ethical issues: the medical stigmatization of population groups by excluding them from the blood donor pool; the use of race in medical decision-making; and the relationship between public health medicine and society," they wrote.

"A further aspect highlighted by this controversy is the tendency of public health medicine to ignore the societal roots of poor health in favor of medical interventions, which operate further downstream. For example, it is easier to use more sophisticated screening technologies than to address the underlying social inequalities."

More information

The American Red Cross has these blood donor eligibility guidelines.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, Jan. 31, 2006
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