A lack of ethnic diversity among donors, coupled with cultural myths, have led to a paucity of bone marrow donors, resulting in hundreds of avoidable deaths caused by leukaemia and other blood-related diseases, says a Mail & Guardian report. It quotes Jane Ward, the deputy director of the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR), as saying that the lack of sufficient education to counter cultural beliefs, especially among black South Africans, contributes to donor resistance.
She said a major education and de-stigmatisation campaign is needed to help people donate – and to realise that help is available.
The M&G report says two other societal phenomena have contributed to shrinking the local bone marrow registry base from 74,000 to 73,000 donors over the past five years: emigration and ageing. Last year, of those donors removed from the local donor base, more than 6% were lost because of emigration, Ward revealed.
And because stem cells age with their hosts, donors are retired from the database at 60 years old.
According to the M&G report, a new partnership between the SABMR and Netcells, South Africa’s largest private cord blood bank, is set to improve access to more cost-effective, life-saving treatment for leukaemia and some 79 other blood related diseases.
This new partnership includes the establishment of a public community cord blood stem cell bank – Africa’s first – and marks another milestone in reducing the one-in-100,000 odds of finding a bone marrow match for patients in South Africa.
The report says while South Africa has been part of the world registry for bone marrow transplants for 20 years, giving it access to some 39m registered donors, there are only 73,000 South African donors in an ageing local registry. This puts South Africans at a major cost and access disadvantage.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks remains the few black (global and local) donors and the gap between South Africa’s funded private transplant funding and unfunded state sector transplants – which the community cord blood stem cell bank aims to address.
And, the M&G report says, cost remains an ever-present reality, with COVID-19 dramatically reducing the global pool of available and usable donor blood cells.
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