- Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has demanded an apology from the South African National Blood Service after it was known that it used race to determine the risk of blood by its donors. The scandal was complete as it was known that even the blood of President Thabo Mbeki had been treated by these "racist" criteria.
The Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has now met with the leadership of the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) to discuss "concerns about the use of race in rating the risk of blood donations," according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Health. At the meeting, she ordered SANBS to apologise.
The scandal started last week, as Minister Tshabalala-Msimang discovered that the national blood bank used sexual practices, healthiness of lifestyle but also skin colour to assess the safety of blood donors. The Minister immediately reacted to the practice, saying "it smacks of racism."
The situation became even graver as it was discovered that the blood of President Mbeki had been evaluated in the same manner. This was known as a senior official of the blood service leaked private medical records relating to President Mbeki to the weekend press, in clear violation of ethical standards.
Minister Tshabalala-Msimang today expressed "serious concerns that in the process of making public statements on this matter, the SANBS failed to observe the principle of confidentiality in the handling of medical records."
- This is clearly unacceptable, said Minister Tshabalala-Msimang. "As health professionals, we have ethical parameters within which we have to operate. Fundamental to this is the need to respect the rights and dignity of our clients. The SANBS should apologise to the President for this unethical conduct," she added.
The Minister in her statement further emphasised that the safety of blood and prevention of risk for patients are the important ideals that every blood transfusion service need to strive for. "It is possible to meet these standards without discriminating against blood donors on the basis of race," she however added.
Minister Tshabalala-Msimang therefore said she would not tolerate any labelling of donors along racial lines. "The current risk-rating model has to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Other scientific determinants that determine risk more accurately should be identified and they should be not based on race," said the Minister.
The blood service had informed the Minister that these concerns will be discussed at meeting of the Board of this organisation tomorrow. The SANBS originally had defended its practice of racial profiling to be necessary and "in line with international practice for assessing risk."
A significantly larger proportion of South Africa's black population majority is infected with the deadly HIV virus, which is transmitted via blood. "In accord with the WHO guidelines and the Blood Policy with regard to Blood Transfusion in South Africa, blood is not collected from population groups with a high prevalence of HIV and other transmissible diseases," according to the SANBS.
On Friday, however, the South African blood bank backed down on its racial profiling practice. After a meeting in the Health Department, SANBS leader Anton Heyns agreed that the risk-rating model needed to be reformed urgently.
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