SAVING LIVES one pint at a time
This is the story about a one-of-a-kind brand. A brand that has an immense responsibility. A brand that plays an integral role in saving lives in South Africa. A brand that’s crucial to filling South Africa’s blood banks. This is the story of the South African National Blood Service.
SANBS is a non-profit organisation (NPO) responsible for collecting, processing and distributing blood across South Africa. Every year it’s faced with the mammoth responsibility of meeting the country’s demand for blood, despite unexpected dips in supply.
MEET SANBS’S STYLISH BRAND AMBASSADOR: Gert-Johan Coetzee. Blood type: A+
Gert-Johan Coetzee needs little introduction. A fashion designer to the stars, he’s dressed the likes of Minnie Dlamini, Bonang Matheba and Pearl Thusi. His women’s and bridal wear is featured regularly on runways around the country and he recently added a kid’s wear range to his repertoire, much to the excitement of local moms.
However, over and above his talent, he’s committed to using his work to spread positive messages – which is why becoming the SANBS’s brand ambassador was a perfect fit.
On fashion that matters…
“I’ve always loved fashion with a conscience and a purpose. There’s no better fit than using my design skills to create awareness for something important, like blood donation.”
On his role as ambassador…
“I’m here to help spread the gospel about the importance of donating blood. That’s what this is all about – and it’s the only reason I’m involved. I want to help create awareness of how necessary it is and how easy it is for us, especially young people, to save lives.”
On what his ambassadorship means to him…
“For me, it’s a social conscience. It’s a way of giving back, being involved and saving lives.”
On the work of the SANBS…
“The work of the SANBS is vitally important. It’s literally the lifeline of SA. I salute the work it’s doing and hope it continues to save more lives. I urge everyone out there to donate blood!”
SILUNGILE MLAMBO (39), Chief Marketing Officer. Blood type: AB+
Mlambo’s been with the SANBS for four years. Her role is to educate people about the importance of the SANBS and blood donation. “Our purpose is to save patients’ lives. This is our raison d’être. The SANBS literally takes the lives of South Africans into its own hands. We are constantly working towards our vision of being ‘the cornerstone of health services in South Africa, through the gift of life’. My role is to encourage people to understand the importance of donating blood and, ultimately, give the gift of life themselves.
“When we think of blood donations being used, we tend to think of people getting transfusions after road accidents or during hospital operations. Both of these scenarios indeed exist and use a certain amount of available stock. But the reality’s more complex. A very large amount of the blood donated is broken up into its constituent parts to create life-saving treatments for a range of conditions – cancer and diabetes, to name just two. One unit of blood can actually save three lives when it’s used in this way.”
She says government pays for the blood used in public hospitals and medical aids cover patients in private ones. “The price isn’t only for the blood, but for the service,” she adds. “However, we never deny anyone blood.”
She says most blood goes to women during childbirth. For this reason, it’s a cornerstone of the health system, as many of these women wouldn’t otherwise survive.
SIEMI PRITHVI RAJ (46), Senior National Manager. Blood type: B+
With over two decades behind her at the SANBS, Raj maintains a passion for her role. She’s responsible for ensuring the organisation collects enough blood to service patient needs. The SANBS, she says, gives people a second chance when a transfusion is the only way to save their life.
She stresses the importance of using blood which is safe and free of infection. Donors’ blood goes through a rigorous testing process, which includes nucleic amplification technology (NAT). “We were the first country in the world to implement individual donation NAT testing,” says Raj.
She explains that there’s a window period during which a person can become infected with HIV, but it isn’t detectable in tests. “NAT testing reduces that period, so we’ve managed to pick up hundreds of cases where donors could have transmitted their infections,” she says. “We tell the donors about their status and offer confidential counselling services.”
DR JACKIE THOMSON (45), Medical Director. Blood type: AB+
As a haematologist (a specialist in blood disorders), Thomson’s treated patients for over 20 years. She moved from her private practice to the SANBS two years ago, having been attracted to the organisation because of its ethics and the opportunity to help patients in both the private and public sectors. “I reached a point where I asked how I could give back and distribute my knowledge,” she says.
Blood is the cornerstone of healthcare in SA, she says, because no modern healthcare system can operate without a blood transfusion system. She adds that while the organisation’s deeply grateful to donors, there are still patients who are lost due to blood shortages. “People should be compelled for altruistic reasons to donate blood,” she says.
TSHEPI MAESELA (43), Chief Financial Officer. Blood type: O+
Maesela’s been with the SANBS for the past year. Her responsibility is to ensure that the organisation collects enough revenue and spends it responsibly.
People pay for blood services for many reasons, she says. “We have to test the blood to ensure it’s safe for all patients. We also have to transport it across SA and pay for equipment like blood bags and needles.”
She believes people have a duty to give back to the country by donating blood. “When you do that, you’re giving of yourself to SA,” she says.
NTHABISENG THUPANA (38), Senior Manager: IT. Blood type: B+
For the past three years, Thupana’s been looking after one of the core systems at the SANBS: SAP-ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). It comprises over 40 IT systems to ensure the organisation runs efficiently.
Through a personal experience, she came to better understand the importance of blood. “My cousin lost a lot of blood during childbirth and the SANBS saved her life.”
In the future, she sees the SANBS making a shift to donor mobility and using technology to improve the blood donation process and to assist the business to perform optimally.
Siemi Prithvi Raj
Dr Jackie Thomson