South Africans are stepping forward to save the lives of those diagnosed with blood cancer by becoming blood stem cell donors.
In 2022, over 21 000 new donors were recruited by DKMS Africa, nearly doubling the non-profit organisation’s registry of donors available for blood stem cell transplants.
Given that almost 80% of African donors are in danger of not receiving donors, the demand for stem cell donations, particularly for persons of colour, has long been supported.
Palesa Mokomele, Head of Community Engagement and Communications at DKMS Africa, explains that the rise in donor registrations can be attributed to the efforts of the DKMS team as well as to the many South Africans who have opened their hearts to give hope to patients. “Our efforts have been bolstered by partnerships in education, healthcare, media, the public, as well as patients who have told their stories so bravely in search of donors.”
Although the majority of people are now aware of the numerous medical advantages which stem cell donations provide in aiding donor recipients in receiving timely treatment, greater recovery possibilities for patients are the result.
According to Mokomele, before the 51% increase, donations from Black, Coloured, Indian, and Asian donors was only 16%. She goes on to say that the significant element of this surge is a very encouraging sign of South Africans' willingness to assist strangers
Only 0.04% of South Africa's 60,6 million people are registered as blood stem cell donors, which is concerning.
“The DKMS donor recruiting team conducted 272 campaigns among companies and universities across the country in 2022. As a result, we were able to engage the families of patients across South Africa and bring their stories to the fore, thereby de-mystifying blood cancers and the barriers to blood stem cell transplantations shared with the Head of Communications.”
Kwazinkosi Mhlongo, a Master's student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, signed up in 2022 after seeing a social media post about a patient who was looking for a donor. “I registered, received my swabs, and sent them back. It was very easy, and I wasn’t sure what would happen next, but I was happy I did it,” said Mhlongo.
Although, Mhlongo admits to being scared when he received the call that he is a match. “I was scared but excited because this was my chance to save someone’s life. I have seen cancer take the breadwinners of families and even their children. Where I come from, if you can help someone, you do it with an open heart, even if you don’t have much to give.”
Mokomele further brings to attention the fact that patients have the best chance of finding a match when they come from their own ethnic group, which means that Black, Coloured, Indian, and Asian patients have only a 19% chance of doing so because local and international registries are largely made up of White donors.
“Additionally, only 30% of blood cancer patients find matches within their family, with 70% relying on unrelated matches,” she said.
The NGO also works in collaboration with community leaders to spread its message and actively participate in recruiting within a patient's own community to increase the pool of ethnic donors.
“While the significant increase in donors in general and the ethnicity ratio, in particular, shows the strides made in 2022, it also indicates that there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Perhaps we can double or even triple these numbers even before the year ends.
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