Durban - "The country needs more bone marrow donors." This is the plea from paediatric haemato-oncologist specialist, Dr Monica Vaithilingum.
Vaithilingum, who practises at Netcare Parklands Hospital said the reality is that at present, donors on the South African Bone Marrow Registry do not reflect the demographics of the country.
“This means that we urgently need more people of all race groups to sign up as donors so that when a patient with a blood disorder requires bone marrow stem cells for treatment, there is a greater likelihood that they can be helped in time,” she said.
Vaithilingum introduced the first dedicated paediatric haematology/oncology services to private patients in KwaZulu-Natal some 17 years ago. She is also a director on the board of the South African Bone Marrow Registry.
“Leukemia is one of the more common forms of childhood cancer. It is never easy for a family to come to terms with the fact that their child has been diagnosed with such a serious illness, however there is always hope. Some 85% of the child patients we see with acute
leukemia have a positive prognosis. The majority of patients can be cured with chemotherapy but for those who require a stem cell transplant, the need is usually dire because they are either relapsed or have poorer prognostic markers. Hence the need for members of the public to make a commitment to sign up as bone marrow stem cell donors,” she said.
As a paediatric haemato-oncologist, which is the field of medicine dedicated to treating children diagnosed with cancer and both benign and malignant blood disorders, Dr Vaithilingum said the shortage of donors is a matter of great concern.
Registering with the South African Bone Marrow Registry is simple and free of charge to the donor.
“The SABMR has an online application process; donors are screened and successful applicants are invited to complete an application form. If they meet the required criteria, a buccal swab sample, which is a swab of cells taken from the inner cheek of the applicant, is obtained from the donor for the all-important HLA tissue typing. These records are then added to our registry’s database, as well as the global database,” she said.
When a patient, particularly a child, requires a bone marrow stem cell transplant, medical teams look for the closest possible match on the registry.
According to the SABMR, ‘tissue-types’ are inherited characteristics, used in matching donors and patients. The likelihood of finding a suitable donor will, therefore, be considerably greater within the same ethnic background.