In the red: a blood product from animals could reduce the need for blood transfusions. Credit: AP

An animal-derived blood substitute has been approved for use in humans in South Africa.

Hemopure, an oxygen-carrying compound derived from bovine haemoglobin, has been given the go-ahead for treating acute anaemia and for use during surgery.

Luc Noel, head of the World Health Organization's blood safety unit, says that treatment could be useful in South Africa's rural areas where safe blood is in short supply.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in five adult South Africans are infected with HIV. Noel says that he welcomes the new product if it reduces reliance on blood transfusions.

Hemopure was developed by Biopure of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company says that the product is compatible with any blood type.

The raw haemoglobin used in Hemopure is harvested from US beef cattle bound for slaughter. Biopure requires the farmers to keep records of the cows' origin, feed, medical history and condition. The company says that its purification process removes infectious agents such as HIV, hepatitis C and transmissible spongiform encephalopathy agents.

Biopure says it will seek approval for Hemopure in the United States later this year, and then in Europe.