A blood screening centre that raised the bar

Blood screening technologies can help to reduce the risk of contaminated blood and provide patients in need with safer transfusions.

We all want safe, clean blood products should we ever need them. We also have the right to expect it. Shockingly, despite mandatory screening policies, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 39 out of 164 countries—about one in four—failed to meet routine testing standards.1  

Blood safety first

Blood screening technologies help blood banks keep their supply safe. But consistently providing safe blood requires a healthcare system that spots high-risk donors quickly and runs the right tests.

Reacting to the second-highest HIV rate in the world, the Latin American Red Cross opened several blood banks and screening centers equipped with the latest technology from Roche. To date, over 108 million blood donations are collected annually from all types of blood donors worldwide.2

New labs, new standards

The Hemocentro Nacional in Ecuador is recognised as one of the most modern blood screening and supply centers in Latin America.
The Hemocentro Nacional in Ecuador is recognised as one of the most modern blood screening and supply centers in Latin America.

One of these modern laboratories, the Hemocentro Nacional, is in Quito, Ecuador.

It serves as a national hub, performing blood typing and testing for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and Chagas disease.

Expanding its services in 2010, the lab adopted new screening systems and assays from Roche: nucleic acid (NAT) and serology testing. To reduce the risk of human error, they automated some processes that used to be done manually. The Hemocentro Nacional also introduced training programs to help staff members adapt to the new technologies. An example is the screening algorithms that promote consistency in screening and decision making for all collected blood.

As the overall availability of donated blood in Latin America is generally low, the provincial health boards and communities have immediate access to the blood center’s database and can request blood as the need arises. In a region where there isn’t much donated blood available, the new database means screened, safe blood can be provided right away.

Doing it right, the first time

In blood screening, accurate detection of infected donations is a key goal. Hemocentro Nacional uses a combination of NAT and serology testing to meet this goal. It can also reveal a blood-based infection at a very early stage. For instance, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) used in NAT assays has been reported to detect the presence of specific viruses within six days of infection.3 

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is a method of rapidly making many copies of a sample of DNA from, for example, blood or saliva. Once enough DNA has accumulated, automated tests can reveal the presence of a specific bacterium or virus. PCR technology, which was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983, is recognized as one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century.   

The Red Cross’s Hemocentro Nacional in Ecuador has become a model for Latin America. This lab proves that integrating a blood bank information system and improved quality control with voluntary donation programs can keep our blood safe.


  1. World Health Organization (WHO). Blood safety – key global fact and figures in 2011. Fact Sheet no. 279, state of June 2011
  2. World Health Organization (WHO). World Blood Donor Day 2017. Accessible at: http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-blood-donor-day/2017/en/
  3. Busch, MP, et al “A new strategy for estimating risks of transfusion-transmitted viral infections based on rates of detection of recently infected donors” Transfusion, Vol 45, February 2005

Tags: Access to healthcare, Diagnostics, Sustainability, Innovation, Society