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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 04:32 GMT 05:32 UK
S Africa approves 'artificial blood' use
African Aids sufferer
More than 4m South Africans are HIV positive
South Africa has become the first country in the world to approve a product which can be used as an alternative to human blood in transfusions.

Its manufacturers say it eliminates the risk of patients being treated with contaminated blood which may contain disease carrying agents such as the HIV virus.

The product, Hemopure, was developed by a US-based biotechnology company, Biopure, and it is made from cow's haemoglobin.

It acts like red blood cells, carrying oxygen to the body's tissues and can be used with patients of any blood type.

Side effects

However, some reasearchers have raised fears that any medical product made from animals presents a risk of introducing new diseases to people.

And some believe that cow-based artificial blood should not be used on humans until BSE - mad cow disease - has been eradicated.

Carl Rausch, CEO of Biopure, said that South Africa's Medicines Control Council had approved the use of Hemopure to treat acute anemia in surgery patients.

Side effects include slightly increased risk of stomach pain, weakness, hypertension, jaundice and nausea.

But its problems are no greater than those associated with regular blood transfusions, Biopure officials said.

Additionally donor blood must be refrigerated and can only be stored for 42 days, while Hemopure can be stored at room temperature and last for two years.

Pricing concerns

Dr Luc Noel, co-ordinator for blood transfusion safety at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, said Hemopure could be an important substitute for blood transfusions in developing countries with shortages of safe blood, provided the product was reasonably priced.

He also cautioned that its use should be closely monitored to detect side effects.

"If there is any alternative that is safer than the potential risks of transfusions, then it should be used," he said.

Dr Richard Friedland, CEO of Netcare, the health care company that jointly holds the license to the product in South Africa, declined to say how much the product would sell for.

However, he said developing countries would pay less than wealthy countries.

Hemopure is the first blood substitute approved for use in humans.

Biopure has already received approval in the United States and Europe for a different blood substitute for dogs.

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21 Mar 01 | Africa
South African HIV infections rise
04 Apr 01 | Africa
South African split over Aids
19 Mar 01 | Africa
SA rejects HIV test kits
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