Despite contending with cultural, societal and religious beliefs that can deter people from registering as donors, the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) still boasts more than 73 000 donors on its register, although it is in the market for many more.
The registry is commemorating 30 years of existence, during which it has facilitated more than 550 bone marrow transplants since 1991.
Bone marrow transplants — or “stem cell” transplants — might be the best chance of recovery for patients with blood disorders. According to SABMR chief executive Dr Charlotte Ingram, an estimated 4 000 new cases of blood disorders such as leukaemia and lymphoma occur in South Africa each year. And finding matching tissue types to conduct the bone marrow transplant is the difficult part.
The likelihood of finding a matching tissue type for a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant outside their family is one in 100 000, or, as Ingram says, “like finding a needle in a haystack”.
For patients with unique tissue types, it becomes even harder.