About us


The Western Province Blood Transfusion Service was originally established way back in 1938. October saw the first meeting of the Cape Peninsula Blood Transfusion Services at Groote Schuur Hospital.

It was a slow start, with only 200 donors enrolling in the first three months. In November, however, the first 30 transfusions took place – rather primitively compared to modern techniques, it must be said. The rest, as they say, is most definitely history.

In the 1930s, transfusion practice was in its most basic phase of development. Hospitals would request a donation and when a suitable donor was found, they would report to the hospital. There, blood would be transfused directly from the donor to the recipient with only a screen separating them – a far cry from today’s procedures!

The first blood bank was established in 1939 and was able to provide blood serum and whole blood to military hospitals for the duration of the Second World War.

In 1942, the Service obtained its own building in the Cape Town city centre where three donors could be accommodated at a time. Back then, blood was being collected in Horlicks milk bottles.

At this stage, blood was delivered to government laboratories for cross-matching. It was these very government laboratories who eventually assisted the Service in developing suitable storage techniques and serum processing.

By October 1943 the donor base had grown to 1 394 active donors providing blood for an average of 182 transfusions a month. In 1949 the Service got its first mobile unit and was able to start scouting for donors throughout the country. The name was also changed to the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service – as we are known today.

The first blood bank to transcend the Cape Peninsula’s borders was opened in George in 1955, followed shortly by Paarl, Worcester and Beaufort West. The increased demand for blood saw a second mobile unit put into action.

In 1959, the head office expanded its premises. It could accommodate 15 donors. The expansion also made it possible for the organisation to provide a comprehensive service for the technical aspects of blood transfusion. In addition to donor grouping and cross-matching, serological, bio-chemistry and plasma aspirating laboratories were housed in the same building. It also housed the largest single-unit blood bank in the country at the time.

From there, the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service grew in strength and donor numbers. By June 1961, over 50 000 donors had given blood and the mobile units had visited 352 external clinics.

It was a great day for the organisation when, in 1966, it was closely involved with the first heart transplant that took place Groote Schuur Hospital. Things continued to improve, and by 1969, the Service had moved to new premises and had employed 160 staff members. This allowed for the collection and distribution of almost 7 000 pints of blood per month.

New technology in the early 70s dramatically improved the Service’s capabilities. New, light-weight mobile equipment was a welcome introduction, allowing standard vehicles to be used as mobile units.

In 1973, plastic containers replaced glass bottles for the collection of blood. The new containers were better suited to the isolation of components such as platelets and frozen fresh plasma. A new laboratory featuring a walk-in cold room, sub-zero plate freezer and an additional centrifuge was also built.

The scientific division of the Service was established in 1976, the year that also saw the arrival of the first automated blood grouping machine. In 1978 a bank for frozen red blood cells was established, and the Service took responsibility for all the blood banking services to Tygerberg, Groote Schuur, Karl Bremer, Mowbray Maternity and Peninsula Maternity hospitals.

In 1980, a Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) and paternity testing service was introduced, and in 1983 the quality assurance department was established. A new laboratory facility was set up to facilitate testing blood for HIV infection. The facility was opened in June 1985.

The Service was accredited to the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) in 1987. The following year – marking 50 years of existence – the Service opened its fractionation plant at Beaconvale in Parow. This plant still houses research, fractionation, quality assurance and warehousing to this day.

In April 1990, the Service moved to its current head office in Pinelands, Cape Town. Over the last two decades there, we’ve made even more progress regarding automation in the field of blood grouping and viral testing.

Early 2006 saw the introduction of the latest international technology to test donor blood – Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT). NAT uses DNA technology to narrow the detection period of HIV infection to between five and 11 days. This technology is being used by blood transfusion services nationally, and is currently the largest application of single-donor testing in the world.

All South African transfusion services – us included – comply with the highest standards in international blood transfusion practices.

The Western Province Blood Transfusion Service is proud to have grown from a small community organisation into one of the most technologically advanced blood services in Africa.

Today, we are respected across the globe for our tireless efforts to achieve service excellence and provide safe blood to the communities that we serve.