Friday, September 30, 2005

Science vs. Politics: guess who wins?

Our dear health minister is up on her high horse again over the South African National Blood Service's slow implementation of (ridiculous) new blood donation testing procedures.

For those not familiar with this particular political soap box, Manto got her panties in a twist when President Mbeki make a very public (and by that i mean aimed at publicity) blood donation. The fool also declined to fill out the medical questionnaire (and one wonders why? what's he hiding if he's perfectly healthy?). Not wanting to embarrass the president in front of all the cameras, the SANBS took his blood. After he was gone, they incinerated it. Why? Because he is part of the highest HIV risk group, and he didn't fill out the medical questionnaire, and it's standard practice to incinerate blood that has a high chance of being infected. If it wasn't the president, they would have refused him right up front. Seems simple, right?

Wrong. Because the highest risk group happens to be blacks. So Manto found out about this and turned it into a race issue. Now the SANBS has to spend R90 million changing from a risk assessment-prior-to-donation model to an accept everyone model.

Let me outline the current method of blood testing: when you arrive at the station, you fill out a form. based on the answers to some of those questions (such as race, age, medical history, recent tattoos or piercings, drug use, donation history, etc) your risk category is analysed. If you are in a high risk group, you are refused. If you are in a low risk group, they take your blood. Then they test it. In this way they hopefully minimize the amount of donations they have to incinerate due to infection. It costs the health department less, fewer people have to donate for no reason, and south africa has one of the lowest infection-from-blood-transfusion rates in the world: only 2 infections per year. That is staggeringly good.

Now comes the change. No one may be turned away from donating due to race. This means that more blood will be donated, more blood will be tested, and more blood thrown away, resulting in about the same amount of viable donation at the end of the day, with a completely unneccesary increase in cost. This filters back to everyone. The cost of receiving a blood donation will now increase by about 25%. The rate of infection from blood transfusion is estimated to increase to 30 cases a year.

All because people cannot tell the difference between scientific fact and racial stereotyping.

Fact: according to department of health statistics (ie stats with Manto's stamp of approval), blacks are twice as likely as whites or cooloureds to have HIV, and twelve times as likely as indians. The SANBS has been keeping records of its testing since 1980, and they say it's much worse than that. Apparently blood donated by a black person is thousands of times more likely to be HIV infected than any other race, and that's based on the actual number of donations they have to discard every year. It's not bigotry, it's not a stereotype, it's a god damn fact.

I got turned away the first time i went to donate blood, because i'd had a piercing within the last 18 months. I didn't get on a soap box about how people with alternative lifestyles are being discriminated against. I didn't cry prejudice. I understand that makes me a high risk category for blood infections, and i waited until 18 months passed before going again. But as soon as it touches race in this country, people are falling over each other to make it into a political statement.

I'll finish off with a statement from independant forensic scientist Dr. David Klatzow:

It is utterly intolerable that Professor Anthon Heyns and Dr Robert Crooks of the South African National Blood Transfusion Service, and the other experts in this field, should be subjected to the political whims of people who in the past have shown themselves to be ignorami in the question of Aids and Aids policy. All the garlic and African potatoes that Tshabalala-Msimang can provide won't alter that fact. The only thing that will alter it is to make the high risk group aware of the problems and to change their behaviour, and this is not going to be done by political posturing.


Blogger ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

Well said Moonflake.
We have got to stop playing the political race card in South Arica and cry wolf as soon as we "perceive" racism may be involved.
Common sense and level headedness has to prevail, no matter one's emotional frame of mind.
Thabo and Manto aren't known for being the sharpest tools in the ANC shed. Is it any wonder that these two are (again) at the forefront of this debacle? They forget that although they are in politics, they are just people like the rest of us.

October 03, 2005 12:37 PM  
Blogger moonflake said...

Thanks, Chitty. Good to know at least one other local sees this farce for what it is.

October 03, 2005 1:37 PM  

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