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Roughly 40 000 units of all blood products transfused in South Africa last year went to paediatric cases, and it is estimated that most of this blood is used for premature babies.

As South Africa observes World Prematurity Day today, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) notes that along with highly specialist medical care, premature babies – babies born at less than 37 weeks’ gestation – also often require blood transfusions.

“About 5% of all the blood we issue goes to paediatric cases, most of which are for preterm babies,” says Silungile Mlambo, national marketing manager for the SANBS. “Preterm babies receive a product called ‘whole blood fresh’, which is not separated into its components and is always filtered and irradiated before being issued. Preterm babies naturally also get much smaller doses than other patients.”

About 100 000 babies are born prematurely in South Africa every year, comprising around 15% of all births, slightly higher than the world average.

The mortality rate of premature babies is three times higher than in newborns. Prematurity is, according to the Department of Health, one of the three major causes of newborn deaths in South Africa.

Mlambo is calling on South Africans to become blood donors to help premature babies survive and thrive.

“Preterm babies are probably the most vulnerable of our recipients. But by donating blood, every South African can play their part in helping a premature baby survive and thrive. Blood donation seems like such a small act, yet it can have a massive impact on the one out of seven babies born prematurely in this country,” says Mlambo.

“The SANBS is therefore calling on South Africans this World Prematurity Day to donate blood and help babies born prematurely.”

To find out more about donating blood, platelets or plasma, or to locate your nearest SANBS donor centre, visit sanbs.org.za or call 0800 11 90 31.