Posted on September 28, 2017
A drive at the Faculty of Veterinary Science's Onderstepoort Campus to recruit hyperimmune blood plasma donors to alleviate the shortage of rabies immunoglobulin in South Africa attracted over 200 students on Monday, 18 September 2017. Rabies immunoglobulin is a key ingredient in the prevention of the disease.
The drive – ahead of World Rabies Day on 28 September – was an initiative of the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) and the University of Pretoria (UP), and was aimed at increasing the number of eligible plasma donors in the country.
Rabies immunoglobulin is produced from plasma collected from hyperimmune donors – the term used to describe donors who have been vaccinated against rabies. All veterinary students have to be vaccinated due to the threat of exposure to animals infected with the rabies virus, making Onderstepoort Campus the perfect recruiting ground for hyperimmune donors.
South Africa requires 2 300 litres of plasma (from 3 650 donations) a year to produce the necessary amount of rabies immunoglobulin. According to the National Bioproducts Institute, the SANBS collected just over half of this (1 450 litres) last year, forcing the Department of Health to incur great cost and waste time importing equine immunoglobulin from the European Union.
Ivor Hobbs, regional marketing manager for the SANBS, hailed the drive as a huge success.
'More than 200 students registered to be tested to see if they are eligible to be plasma donors, which is absolutely fantastic. Of course, not all will be eligible, but even if only a fraction are eligible, that will help us boost the number of hyperimmune plasma donors in the country, meaning we can provide more plasma to the National Bioproducts Institute, which manufactures the rabies immunoglobulin, among other much-needed plasma products,' he said.
Kelley Greenland, a first-year veterinary nursing student, was the first to be tested. She said she wanted to donate plasma as 'rabies is becoming more prevalent and a lot of people can get infected and die. If I can help someone else, why wouldn't I?' she asked.
Her friend and fellow first-year veterinary nursing student, Zanari Oliver said she was a regular blood donor, but wanted to donate plasma after hearing about the great shortage.
'It really doesn't hurt, so why not take a few minutes out of your day to save someone's life?' she asked.
Dzunisani Ngobeni, a sixth-year veterinary science student, said donating plasma is a way to contribute. 'It's about caring for other people. This is a way I can help others survive without spending a cent, and I hope someday that someone will do the same for me,' she said.
Phakamisa Tolibadi, a first-year veterinary nursing student, said he is a regular blood donor who wants to make a difference. 'Our blood saves lives. It's amazing to realise the importance of our blood, so I am really excited at the prospect of being a plasma donor,' he said.
Addressing the Onderstepoort students, Professor Lucille Blumberg, deputy director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said: 'The big problem [in South Africa] is availability and supply. We run out [of rabies immunoglobulin] because we don't have enough supply. Your role is really about preventing rabies, which is a totally preventable disease.'
Pam Larkin, head of strategic resources and marketing development at the National Bioproducts Institute, said that South Africa needs around 295 plasma donors who donate at least 12 times a year to meet the demand, but currently there are only between 280 and 320 donors who donate around seven times a year.
'We need more people to donate as soon as they qualify to join the panel. That's why we were so excited to be part of this drive,' she said.
Plasma donors can donate every two weeks and it takes about 45 minutes.
Onderstepoort students were tested to determine their suitability. The SANBS will return to Onderstepoort Campus in two weeks' time to extract plasma from suitable donors.
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