With over 22 million volunteers, the registry is a lifeline for the 70% of patients who don’t find a donor in their family.
However, there’s a significant challenge: the lack of diversity on the registry. Patients of colour are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding matched donors.
For black patients, the odds of finding a match are as low as 23%, significantly less favourable compared to their white counterparts, who have a 77% chance.
Diversity is essential because it increases the likelihood that all patients will find the match they need.
They highlight that while American Indian and Alaska Native individuals have a 57% chance, Asian and Pacific Islanders have a 41% chance, and Hispanic or Latino individuals have a 46% chance of locating a compatible donor through the registry.
Be The Match is actively seeking to increase racial and ethnic diversity among its donors by engaging with communities through social media and outreach programmes.
They emphasise the importance of these efforts: by diversifying the registry, we can make the life-saving difference for more patients.
They encourage everyone to consider signing up to be a potential donor, which could greatly increase the chances for patients of all backgrounds to find their match.
DKMS Africa has seen an incredible 74% increase in the number of black stem cell donors, marking a significant milestone in providing hope to blood cancer patients.
Palesa Mokomele, the organisation’s head of community engagement and communications, explains that historically, cultural misconceptions have discouraged many in the black community from registering as donors.
However, the organisation has successfully recruited over 23 500 potential life-saving donors from the black community.
Mokomele stresses that finding a matching stem cell donor is often the only hope for survival for blood cancer patients. She notes that, in 2021, only 10% of donors on the registry were black South Africans, making it difficult for black, coloured, Indian and Asian patients to find suitable matches.
However, the number of black donors has now increased to 33% and continues to grow.
Mokomele attributes this growth to a significant shift in awareness and attitudes within the demographic. She emphasises the role of partnerships with medical professionals, traditional healers, and influential figures such as former Miss South Africa Shudufhadzo Musida, hip-hop group Driemanskap, and actor/comedian Siv Ngesi, as well as community leaders, the media, and courageous patients who have shared their stories.
Additionally, more than 400 registration drives, involving volunteer education and recruitment, have contributed to the success.
As a result of all these efforts, the total number of donors on the DKMS registry across all races increased by 43% over the course of 2023, with ethnically diverse people making up the majority.
“This is a testament to South Africans’ willingness to help those in need and be a beacon of hope for those patients awaiting life-saving stem cell transplants,” said Mokomele.
However, she highlighted that the issue of donor availability remained one of the biggest stumbling blocks when it came to seeing more positive stories of patients actually getting a second chance at life.
“DKMS Africa is committed to giving each patient a fighting chance at life, but we realise that we can’t do this alone and encourage people who have already taken the step to register to complete the journey of donation.”
This will help ensure that all South Africans battling blood cancers and disorders can have access to matching donors for a transplant. “In doing so, we can delete these diseases,” said Mokomele.
In 2024, the non-profit aims to reach and inspire more people to register, further increasing the number of donors in general and widening the pool of ethnic donors in particular.
Register today at https://www.dkms-africa.org/register-now .
For more information, contact DKMS Africa on 0800 12 10 82.