Latest blood donor survey shows racial gaps in Covid-19 infection persist

  • The latest blood donor survey has shed light on the prevalence of Covid-19 in all racial groups
  • Epidemiologist Professor Alex Welte says there are significant racial disparities in exposure to Covid-19 in South Africa
  • The survey also suggests that around three-quarters of South Africans have now been infected with the coronavirus




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A recent study has highlighted a persistent racial gap in the prevalence of Covid-19 antibodies among South African blood donors.

The survey, carried out in conjunction with the South African National Blood Service, has tested some blood donors for Covid-19 antibodies over the past year.

The latest tests carried out in early November revealed that around three-quarters of South Africans had already had Covid-19.

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Epidemiologist Professor Alex Welte, co-author of the study, says studies show there are still significant differences between the prevalence of Covid-19 when comparing racial groups.

However, the results show that there is no significant variation between age groups and genders.

Overall, around 80% of black donors had already had Covid-19, compared to 40% of white donors.

A similar study conducted last year found that less than 20% of white donors already had the virus compared to more than 50% of black donors.

Welte says the persistent variation between racial groups is indicative of socioeconomic inequality in the country.

We saw less variation between provinces, but this is South Africa and we continued to see very large differences between racial groups, with 80% exposure among black donors and over 40 % among white donors.

Prof Alex Welte, epidemiologist and research professor – SACEMA at the University of Stellenbosch

This indicates very large differences in social networks. Clearly, white donors are on average people who are able to stay at home in their suburban homes a bit more and able to avoid the virus. They can afford high quality masks and things like that.

Prof Alex Welte, epidemiologist and research professor – SACEMA at the University of Stellenbosch

As the data was collected in November last year, it is still unclear how the Omicron variant that dominated the fourth wave may have impacted the infection gap between racial groups.

In general, Welte says transmission of Covid-19 has deepened in South Africa and many people have developed natural immunity.

At the beginning of last year we found a lot of variation between provinces, but at the end of last year we found very little significant variation…so we see a kind of saturation in a certain sense .

Prof Alex Welte, epidemiologist and research professor – SACEMA at the University of Stellenbosch

As things were happening in November, we found that perhaps three-quarters of the population had had serious contact with Covid-19. We’re not talking about vaccination antibodies, that’s not what was detected here. These are antibodies produced by actual exposure to the virus, we can tell the difference.

Prof Alex Welte, epidemiologist and research professor – SACEMA at the University of Stellenbosch


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