“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” These are the words of former president, Nelson Mandela, whose ethos is celebrated annually around the world on the 18th of July, Nelson Mandela International Day. This is done through the giving of 67 minutes of one’s time in service of others in need. Under this year’s theme of ‘Do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are’, DKMS Africa is calling on South Africans to register to donate stem cells and save a life.
DKMS Africa Director of Corporate Communications, Palesa Mokomele, says that the context of this year’s theme is a world in which inequality continues to grow, and nowhere is inequality more heart-breaking than amongst South Africans with blood cancers and blood diseases. “This is because their best chance of survival is a stem cell transplant, but currently, only 0,04% of South Africans are registered as donors. Of those, 70% are of European descent which means that blood cancer patients of African descent and mixed ethnicity have less chance of finding an appropriate donor as a match is highest among donors from a patient’s own ethnic group. DKMS Africa exists to make a difference to Africa by giving all patients a second chance at life.”
“All I want is to be able to watch my baby girl grow up,” shares Thabo Monni Maleka who has been waiting for a donor since 2012 when he was diagnosed with X-linked Sideroblastic Anaemia. This is a blood disorder that stops the body from developing red blood cells which carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Thabo has found himself unable to apply for work opportunities due to his condition and the countless trips to the hospital have been financially draining. Despite this, Thabo has faith that he will find a donor.
Mokomele adds that there is a misconception that patients should be able to find a matching donor within their family, but this only happens for 30% of people, whereas the other 70% depend on a donation from a stranger.
The latter was the case for 36-year-old Unathi Mtengwane, a North West resident who was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in 2017. Despite going into remission later that year following intensive chemotherapy and radiation of his brain and spine, along with maintenance treatment thereafter, a molecular cancer was detected in his system during a routine check-up in 2021. His doctors said that he would need to undergo a life-saving blood stem cell transplant as soon as possible. Sadly, no family match was found and so Unathi is at the mercy of the global community to find an unrelated donor match.
In a fight against time, Unathi reached out to DKMS Africa for assistance in finding blood stem cell donors of Black African ethnic origin. He says, “cancer is not specific to any colour or race; it can affect anyone. We need to think about our families and larger community and not wait for ourselves or someone close to us to be affected. Your donation is important, it saves lives.
“This Nelson Mandela International Day, I implore South Africans to take action and inspire change by registering to become stem cell donors. Not only are registration and donation free, the process takes less than 67 minutes and could give someone like Thabo or Unathi a second chance at life,” concludes Mokomele.
Registering is a simple three-step process. South Africans between the ages of 18 and 55 years old can visit the DKMS Africa site where they will answer a brief questionnaire to determine whether they can safely donate. Those who are eligible will be sent a swab kit to their home at no cost to them. Once received, they will need to swab the inside of their mouth and cheeks, and a courier will collect the kit within five days. The swabs will be analysed to determine their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) characteristics in order to be matched with patients who share these. Once the samples have been analysed, the donor will be added to the registry for patients searching for a donor.
DKMS Africa will spend this year’s Mandela Day in Guguletu alongside community development organisations and football clubs to create awareness about blood disorders.
Registration link: https://www.dkms-africa.org/register-now