Urgent call for donors as bone marrow registries take a beating from Covid-19

Dr Charlotte Ingram (Medical Direct of the SABMR), An-Louise Louw (recipient), Joshua King (recipient), Maximillian Klausing (German-based donor), Ricki-Lee Hamman (recipient), Chris Schutte (donor).

Covid-19 is taking its toll on the treatment of blood disorders and stem cell transplantations worldwide – putting thousands of lives at risk.

Dr Charlotte Ingram, medical director of the SA Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) – the largest registry in the country – says they too have seen a drop in local donor registrations since the start of the pandemic.

She attributes the decline to physical events that drive blood stem cell donor registrations having to be cancelled around the country and the extended lockdown orders prompting the public to stay indoors.

“These measures are obviously crucial in slowing the spread of the virus, but it has put a strain on the critical services that registries provide. Aside from a lag in donor recruitment, Covid-19 has also made it difficult to transport blood stem cells to patients in need. While specialised stem cell courier services are operational, the current travel restrictions, international flight availability and quarantine protocols have impacted critical delivery times.”

In light of the pandemic, the SABMR will for the foreseeable future, recruit all donors on-

“Our number one priority is to protect our donors, potential donors and patients while continuing to offer a second chance of life to those who need it. Patients with blood disorders, such as leukaemia and thalassemia around the world are still in urgent need of blood stem cell transplants. That doesn’t change. The fewer donors we have, the lesser the chance of finding a match. As it is, the chance of finding a successful match is approximately one in 100 000.

“Only 30% of people are lucky enough to find donors in their family, while the remaining 70% must look elsewhere for a match. When local matches aren’t found, international registries are accessed, but even so, the odds of finding a match are slim, and in the event of an international match being found, the process is an expensive one.

“In SA, the registry is currently not reflective of our demographics and unfortunately worldwide only 27% of donors are of colour, which makes finding a match even more problematic,” she notes.

To drive donor registrations, the SABMR has launched an online campaign to sign up
10 000 new volunteer donors before World Marrow Donor Day, which is celebrated annually on September 19. The SABMR’s target is to have 100 000 donors available for patients in need at any given time.

Over the next three months, hero donors will be sharing their stories on social media to inspire and help create awareness, while debunking myths around the procedure. To find out more follow the SABMR’s #THANKYOUDONOR campaign at: https://www.facebook.com/sabonemreg/

Every year thousands of people in the world are diagnosed with blood disorders.

“In healthy individuals, bone marrow makes more than 200 billion new blood cells every day, including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets,” says Dr Ingram. “In people with different types of cancer and bone marrow disease, this process is impaired and often a bone marrow transplant is the best chance of survi-
val. Since ethnicity plays a role in a successful blood stem cell transplant, it is important for each of us to register as a blood stem cell donor. While Covid-19 has dominated our lives, people with blood disorders still need our help.

“We want this miracle to be available for each patient. Some of the most selfless and unheralded people are those who sign up to become donors and we want to thank them for their generosity.”

She says the SABMR has adapted its procedures to ensure that the public can still become registered donors, despite physical distancing.

“We now offer at-home-sampling kits that are available free of charge from over 140 medical institutions and laboratories nationwide, with a free collection service. Applicants will be contacted to discuss the easiest way of dispatching and collecting the kits. The only sample we require is a simple cheek swab. All other precautionary measures against Covid-19 have also been implemented at blood marrow donation sites across the country to further protect donors and medical personnel,” says Dr Ingram.

If you are between the ages of 18 and 45 and want to become a donor, contact the SABMR on 021 447 8638 or email: donors@sabmr.co.za For more details, click here.

As the SABMR is a non-profit organisation, it relies heavily on financial donations from corporates and the public. Funds raised are used towards lifesaving services and patient assistance programmes for families who cannot afford to take on the costly medical bills. Donations can be made via www.sabmr.co.za/donate, various payment options including EFT, SnapScan, Zapper and Payfast are available for ease of payment.