Background - South Africa aims to transition from a two-tiered healthcare system (public and private) to universal health coverage. Data on red blood cell (RBC) product usage reveal disparities between the sectors. Blood transfusion services further need to understand differing disease profiles and transfusion prescribing practices between the sectors to ensure blood security should the transition to a two-tiered health system come to fruition.
Materials and methods - Operational data for public and private healthcare RBC requests between 1 January 2014 and 31 March 2019, obtained from the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), were retrospectively analysed. Sector-specific demographic and utilisation trends were compared for the dominant clinical disciplines. Pre-transfusion haemoglobin (Hb) patterns were also delineated for 2018.
Results - Between 2014 and 2019, 2,356,411 public and private sector RBC transfusion events resulted in the issue of 4,020,094 RBC units (1,553,159 transfusion events and 2,495,054 units within the public sector versus 803,282 transfusion events and 1,525,040 units in private). The dominant clinical disciplines within the public sector were Medical (32.9%), Gynaecology/Obstetrics (27.3%), General Surgery (13.6%), and Paediatrics (including Paediatric Surgery) (6.5%), compared to Intensive Care Units (33.2%), Medical (28.3%), General Surgery (10.4%), and Haematology/Oncology (8.3%) in the private sector. Median pre-transfusion Hb values for 2018 were lower in the public than in the private sector: 6.9 g/dL public sector versus 8 g/dL private sector.
Discussion - Clinical drivers of RBC usage within the public and private healthcare sectors in South Africa differ significantly. Disparate pre-transfusion Hb between the sectors are likely due to differing disease profiles and severity, as well as differences in practice in prescribing transfusions. Implementation of a nationally co-ordinated Patient Blood Management programme may help to address these disparities and help ensure a sustainable blood transfusion system
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