Stem cell donors encourage South Africans to donate towards fighting blood cancer malignancies

Picture by Anna Tarazevich/Pexels

Picture by Anna Tarazevich/Pexels

Published Jan 18, 2023


Patients with blood cancer and other blood abnormalities have undergone life-saving blood stem cell transplants throughout the previous year. Finding compatible donors is still only 1 in 100 000 times likely for people with blood malignancies and other blood diseases.

Such significantly low chances makes recovery for patients dependent on the stem cell transplant journey extremely difficult and sometimes deadly.

There are only 24 240 registered South African donors out of a population of 60.6 million, making it difficult to find someone who matches the HLA (tissue) characteristics of the patient.

Due to the incredibly low number of black, coloured, and Indian donors, the donor pool shrinks even further for patients of colour.

A small donation can make a big difference. Every little bit counts when you donate to charitable organisations that are dedicated to turning millions of lives around.

Picture by Anna Tarazevich/Pexels

According to Nabiella de Beer, communications manager at DKMS Africa, one of the biggest obstacles to expanding the nation's donor register is fear.

“This is because many people don’t know how blood stem cells are donated. But there are those heroes who are brave enough to put their fears aside so they can save a life,” she said.

“It’s just a little more than a blood donation,” said Charl Sonnekus, a 26-year-old trainee chartered accountant and blood stem cell donor from Cape Town. He said he registered after seeing a news article about a seven-year-old diagnosed with a rare blood disorder who was desperately seeking a matching donor.

De Beer explains that stem cells are extracted from the bloodstream through peripheral stem cell donation, which is utilised in over 90% of instances.

You won't need to undergo anaesthesia or be hospitalised. A sterile needle will be inserted into a vein in either of your arms to draw blood stem cells from your blood. Before being returned to your body through the other arm, the blood is collected from one vein and put through a machine that preserves stem cells. It usually takes four to six hours to finish.

She explains that 2% of the time, a donor's bone marrow will need to be obtained. Only in these circumstances will they require anaesthesia, and the pelvic bone will be punctured with a fine, sterile needle.

The donor will stay in the hospital for three days during this process. Some donors experience mild pain as two small incisions will be made at the rear of the pelvic bone, although this will seem like bruising.

The donation process is not as difficult as people believe it is, according to John Fobian, a 34-year-old real estate agent from Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal who registered as a donor in 2019.

“If you can give somebody a second chance at life with something as simple as stem cells, why not? Everyone deserves the right to life,” he said.

Kim Patton, a 21-year-old teacher's assistant from Paarl, has had the opportunity to donate again, and she agrees with Sonnekus and Fobian that they would donate 100 times over, if needed.

"After the initial donation, I was asked whether I would be ready to give blood again. I replied without a moment's hesitation, especially because it was for the same patient. It was a no-brainer because the donation doesn’t take a lot out of me, and I wanted to be able to better her life,” she said.

The DKMS Africa website allows anyone between the ages of 18 and 55 who is in excellent health to sign up as a potential donor.

You will need to complete a quick questionnaire to see if you can donate safely. If you meet the requirements, a courier will bring a free swab kit to your house.

When the kit arrives, you will need to swab the inside of your mouth and cheeks, and a courier will collect the kit from you within five days. The swabs will then be analysed to determine your HLA characteristics.

Once your samples have been analysed, you will be added to the global registry available to all patients searching for a donor.

Blossom Ngesi, a 37-year-old donor and a traffic manager from Cape Town, encourages people to register as donors, especially people of colour, as there are fewer black and coloured donors, while there are many who need our help.

Let’s do it together! Be a hero! Register today at

For more information, contact DKMS Africa on 0800 12 10 82.