Since allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to become bone marrow stem cell donors, the SA Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) has seen a whopping 65% increase in youth sign ups.
Nadia Chalkley, Head of Donor Recruitment for the SABMR says the response has been phenomenal.
“In just over a year since lowering the eligible donor age, more than 3 000 South African youth have joined our registry. Most are between the ages of 16 and 35.”
She says the bulk of youth registrations have come from donor drives held at schools and university campuses after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
“Students in the big metropoles, where most of our donor efforts were concentrated, have been so receptive to our message and it’s given us an opportunity to educate and debunk many of the myths that surround bone marrow stem cell donation.
“The donor drives have given us insights into the importance that today’s youth place on philanthropy.
“Many young people are eager to get involved in the world around them and want to be a driving force for change. They don’t want to wait till they’re older to make a difference – even if they’re not in a position to give financially, they want to give in other ways.”
Adil Dowlath (18) from KwaZulu-Natal says there’s no better way to show gratitude than to give back.
“During the hard lockdown in 2020, I came across an advert by the SABMR asking the public to join the registry and felt prompted to sign up. Being charitable raises the emotional well-being of not just the receiver, but the giver as well.”
Isibabale Nkani, a 20-year-old student from the Eastern Cape, says the lack of awareness around bone marrow stem cell donation in her community is what urged her to sign up as an SABMR volunteer.
“A family member was diagnosed with Leukaemia. Sadly, she passed away as no donor match was found.
“The experience has made me realise that we can’t wait for others to step up. We need to be the changemakers. In the last few months, I’ve tried to do my bit to drive awareness and increase donor sign ups among my community as bone marrow stem cell donation is still a foreign concept to many of my friends and family. If more people were aware of what it entails, my aunt may still have been with us today.”
Chalkley describes South African youth as a growing and influential population that has the power to change societal perceptions – whether it be about climate change, corruption, addiction, or bone marrow stem cell donation.
“They have the energy and enthusiasm, and can offer fresh perspectives on relevant issues, which is why we are calling upon all the youth of the country to use the hashtag #SwabtoSave during Youth Month in an effort to increase SABMR registrations among 16 to 35-year-olds.
“Share it in as many posts and across platforms as you can. Get your friends and family to join in too. Be part of the @sabonemreg community, like and share our posts. The more awareness that’s created, will help people to overcome the fear they have, address misconceptions and prompt them to become donors.
“To register is easy. All it takes is completing an online health history questionnaire and a cheek swab, which can be done at one of our depots, like Intercare or Pathcare, or a kit can be couriered to you free of charge. Once registered, your information is entered into the SA donor database and your cheek swab goes to an accredited testing laboratory. Your swab is tested and the results are then uploaded to the SABMR database. It’s the first step to being a cure for someone suffering from a life-threatening blood disorder and there is no greater gift than to give someone the gift of life.”
She says there is only 1 in 100 000 chance of finding a bone marrow stem cell donor match for patients of European descent and that the odds drop even further for patients of other ethnicities due to the low donor numbers from these groups. Finding donor matches for patients of mixed ethnic race is even more challenging.
At any given time, there are 200 patients awaiting a bone marrow stem cell transplant, and without a suitable donor match, the chance of survival is slim. The greater the donor pool, the greater the odds of a match.
The SABMR’s goal is to sign up another 1000 donors by the end of June.