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Africans have ‘80% chance of not finding a stem cell donor’

Nockey Mkhize, Xolani Hlongwane, Allison Naidoo from the Sunflower foundation showing off their TOPE designs and colours. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency(ANA)

Nockey Mkhize, Xolani Hlongwane, Allison Naidoo from the Sunflower foundation showing off their TOPE designs and colours. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jul 28, 2022

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A person of African descent's chances of finding a donor on a national or international registry scale is less than 20%.

A person of European descent has a greater than 80% chance of acquiring a donor on a national or international donor registry.

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Seventy percent of blood cancer and blood disorder sufferers require a blood stem cell donation from a non-related donor.

However, a general lack of information and education are major barriers preventing eligible potential donors from registering on the global registry.

Dr Candice Hendricks, a South African paediatric haematologist and the creator of Lusandi Medical Animation Studios (LMAS), tells IOL Lifestyle that there is a massive shortage of stem cell donors in South Africa, particularly among donors of African descent.

She explains why it’s critical to understand the desperation for donors; donations are far more complicated than hoping that a family member will automatically be a match.

“A person of African descent's chances of finding a donor on a national or international registry scale are less than 20%.

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“A person of European descent has a greater than 80% chance of acquiring a donor on a national or international donor registry.

“The reason for this is that there are not enough donors of African descent, Indians, or any people of colour in South Africa.”

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Hendricks says as a haematologist working in the field of blood disorders and blood cancers, educating and bridging the information gap will eliminate fears and encourage people to become stem cell donors in our registry.

“As we all know, there is always fear when there is a lack of education; people don't know why they have to donate, how they must donate, or the impact of their donation because if they aren't armed with that knowledge, they can't come forward and say, "I want to become a donor on the registry."

To address this, blood stem cell registry and donor recruitment centre, DKMS Africa, has formed a partnership with Lusandi Medical Animations Studio (LMAS) to create an educational animation series focusing on a child’s experience with a blood disorder and her journey to find a blood stem cell donation.

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The video demonstrates the ease of registering as a donor and the life-changing impact of the donation on the patient.

The platform conveys information about a patient's condition and donor information in their language and a straightforward and understandable manner in an effort to close the information gap about stem cell donation.

The three-part series serves to educate patients and their caregivers in simple but medically accurate language.

Episodes are available in isiXhosa, isiZulu, isiVenda, Setswana and English and documents the life of a young blood disorder patient, Dineo, from diagnosis to transplantation.

She continues by saying that as doctors, we occasionally forget that we must communicate information in a way that people can understand it; it is unrealistic to expect people to grasp medical jargon.

There is potential for plenty of contributors in South Africa, which increases the likelihood that a recipient will acquire a donation.

“For instance, if bone marrow stem cell transplant is your sole chance for survival after a very aggressive blood malignancy, you truly depend on a complete stranger to provide you that chance.”

All it requires is a simple cheek swab, which is not invasive. The kit may be delivered to you wherever you are, says Hendricks.

She adds that assisting patients through these videos will arm them with the tools to explain their condition to family members, as well as give them the necessary information about the process of transplantation and donor information.

Read our latest IOL Health magazine here.

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