Urgent call for bone marrow donors

Donor Brenda Masuku meets the person whose life her bone marrow stem cells may have saved
Donor Brenda Masuku meets the person whose life her bone marrow stem cells may have saved

Every year hundreds of South Africans with blood diseases such as leukaemia and bone marrow failure reach a stage where their only chance of survival is to receive a bone marrow stem cell transplant from a healthy donor.

This year, the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) – the only bone marrow registry in South Africa – is celebrating 25 years of successfully securing bone marrow stem cell transplants for 383 patients.

According to the SABMR, approximately 30% of patients find a match within their families while the other 70% rely on finding a match from an unrelated donor to provide them with the chance of survival.

The SABMR currently has 72,000 registered bone marrow donors on its database and the chance of finding a match for a patient diagnosed with a blood disease is one in 100,000, which makes South African-based donor recruitment essential.

While blood diseases are not limited to age, gender or race, the ethnic background of a donor is crucial to finding the perfect match. But a match is based on inherited genetic characteristics which are often associated with a particular race group and not on blood types. Through association with the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) and participation in Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide (BMDW), the SABMR has access to 28 million donors worldwide, but getting stem cells from international donors is very costly.

“We need more South Africans to register so we can save more lives, and we are in desperate need of more black donors. In 2015, there were 150 preliminary donor search requests for patients needing a bone marrow transplant and 50% of the referrals were for patients who are black, coloured or Asian while only three out of the 25 patients who had transplants in that year were in this group,” said Dr Charlotte Ingram, Medical Director of SABMR.

The first black South African to donate stem cells to an unrelated patient – Brenda Masuku, the youngest of eight children from a village in Mpumalanga – did so in 2003, and describes the experience as “life changing”.

For further information contact the SABMR on (021) 447-8638 or visit their website http://www.sabmr.co.za

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