Most common blood types in South Africa

The warm, red liquid that runs through your veins is more than just something you need to survive, it can save other’s lives too and on a daily basis across the world, millions of lives are saved by donated blood. Did you know there are four main blood type groups and that your blood type determines who you can donate to and receive blood from? In honour of Bone Marrow Stem Cell and Leukaemia Awareness month, let’s take a closer look at blood types and blood donation in South Africa.

The main difference between blood groups, or blood types as they are more commonly known, comes down to the molecules and the antigens and antibodies. Some blood types have certain molecules while others don’t and this helps to identify which patient can use which blood type effectively. Take a look at the four main groups and their uses below.

Type A

In South Africa, an estimated total of 37% of citizens belong to either A positive (A+) or A negative (A-) groups. The A blood type is characterised by B antibodies and A antigens.

Can donate to: Type A, Type B
Can receive from: Type A, Type O.

Type B

Roughly 14% of South Africans fall into either the B positive (B+) or B negative (B-) blood group. Type B red blood cells are known to contain B antigens on the surface and the blood plasma comprises A antibodies.

Can donate to: Type B, Type AB
Can receive from: Type B, Type O.

Type AB

Type AB is the rarest with only 4% of South Africans having this blood type. AB donors have both A and B antigens on the surface, but neither of the antibodies. People who have AB positive (AB+) blood are universal recipients which means that they can receive blood from any other blood group.

Can donate to: Type AB
Can receive from: Type AB+ can receive blood from any donor. Type AB- can receive blood from other negative types such as O-, A-, B- and AB-.

Type O

In South Africa, Type O is the most common blood group, with at least 45% of the population falling into this category. Type O is characterised by having both A and B antibodies in the blood plasma, but neither antigen on the surface of the red blood cells. Interestingly, people with O negative (O-) blood are universal donors, as their blood can be used by anyone.

Can donate to: Type O positive (O+) can donate to all positive types O+, A+, B+ and AB+. Type O- can donate blood to anyone.
Can receive from: Type O+ can receive blood from other O+ donors while type O- can only receive blood from O- donors.

Most people assume that when it comes to blood donation, their blood is taken whole and used as is for patients in need. Infact, the blood is separated into three parts: red blood cells, plasma and platelets, and then the specific part is administered to patients based on their needs. Because of this, one single donation can save up to three lives. Other than straight blood donation, in South Africa you can also do:

Designated donation

Designated donation means that a donor can volunteer to provide blood for a consenting patient, usually a friend or family member. This is most common amongst families who have a member suffering from a serious illness, such as leukaemia. With designated donation, a donor can help a patient to get the blood donation they need, when they need it, and can potentially save their life.

Autologous donation

Autologous donation refers to donors giving blood for their own use in the future. This is mostly only available to patients who are having major surgery and whose doctors are concerned about the fact that they may suffer significant blood loss. It is something usually arranged or requested by your doctor and not normal practice before a routine surgery. The blood is destroyed if not used so it is not a recommended process unless your doctor has prescribed this.

Platelet donation

Platelet donation can be used to treat patients with leukeamia, anemia and a variety of other blood disorders. This process takes a little bit longer than other forms of donation, at about 1 or 2 hours a go, as it involves extracting blood from the donor, removing the platelets and then returning the rest of the blood into the donor’s system.

In South Africa, there are two main blood transfusion services, namely the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service and the South African National Blood Service. If you are interested in becoming a blood donor, visit their website and follow them on social media to know where to look out for their pop-up stalls. By donating blood, you can give the gift of life to someone else who may not have had a second chance.

Life Source Part 2 will take a look at the most common blood disorders as well as some interesting facts relating to blood.


View all articles