Bone marrow registries have declined since the COVID-19 outbreak began, putting thousands of lives at risk. The SA Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) is urgently asking residents to sign up to become a donor and a save a life.

Dr Charlotte Ingram, Medical Director of SABMR – the largest registry in the country – says they have seen a drop in local donor registrations since the start of the pandemic as a result of physical events that drive blood stem cell donor registrations having to be cancelled around the country and the extended lockdown orders prompting the public to stay indoors.

“These measures are obviously crucial in slowing the spread of the virus, but it has put a strain on the critical services that registries provide,” says Dr Ingram. “Aside from a lag in donor recruitment, COVID-19 has also made it difficult to transport blood stem cells to patients in need. While specialised stem cell courier services are operational, the current travel restrictions, international flight availability and quarantine protocols have impacted critical delivery times.”

Every year, thousands of people in the world are diagnosed with blood disorders.

“In healthy individuals, bone marrow makes more than 200 billion new blood cells every day, including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. In people with different types of cancer and bone marrow disease, this process is impaired and often a bone marrow transplant is the best chance of survival.”

According to SABMR, only 30% of people in need of blood stem cell transplants will find a suitable donor in their family. The remaining 70% depend on the public for this live-changing donation, but their odds are incredibly slim and the process is expensive. As it is, the chance of finding a successful match is approximately one in 100 000.

“In SA, the registry is currently not reflective of our demographics and unfortunately worldwide only 27% of donors are of colour, which makes finding a match even more problematic,” Ingram adds.

“Since ethnicity plays a role in a successful blood stem cell transplant, it is important for each of us to register as a blood stem cell donor. While COVID-19 has dominated our lives, people with blood disorders still need our help. We want this miracle to be available for each patient. Some of the most selfless and unheralded people are those who sign up to become donors and we want to thank them for their generosity.”

SABMR has launched a massive online campaign, starting this July, with the aim of achieving 10 000 new volunteer donors before World Marrow Donor Day (WMDD) which is celebrated annually on September 19. The SABMR’s target is to have 100 000 donors available for patients in need at any given time.

“Our number one priority is to protect our donors, potential donors and patients whilst continuing to offer a second chance of life to those who need it. Patients with blood disorders, such as leukemia and thalassemia around the world are still in urgent need of blood stem cell transplants. That doesn’t change. The fewer donors we have, the lesser the chance of finding a match.”

Over the next three months, hero donors will be sharing their stories on social media to inspire and help create awareness, while debunking myths around the procedure.

One such story is of Sibongile Jimlongo – a 25-year-old lawyer in training from Stellenbosch who had the desire to help a child who was in need of a bone marrow transplant. Before she went ahead with the procedure, it was important for her to get her parents and grandmother’s blessing. When she first shared the news with them, they were nervous, as it wasn’t something that anyone in their family ever considered and is uncommon in African custom. After she explained that bone marrow is extracted via an intravenous line and that it is done in a safe way, her family respected her wishes, and she was able to save a child’s life. To her, donating blood marrow was an honour and is something that she will treasure forever.

For more stories, follow the SABMR’s #THANKYOUDONOR campaign on:

Those wanting to register can rest assured that SABMR’s procedures have been adapted to follow necessary safety regulations.

“We now offer at-home-sampling kits that are available free of charge from over 140 medical institutions and laboratories nationwide, with a free collection service. Applicants will be contacted to discuss the easiest way of dispatching and collecting the kits. The only sample we require is a simple cheek swab. All other precautionary measures against COVID-19 have also been implemented at blood marrow donation sites across the country to further protect donors and medical personnel,” says Dr Ingram.

If you are between the ages of 18 and 45 and want to become a donor, contact the SABMR on 021 447 8638 or email: [email protected]. For more info, visit

As the SABMR is a non-profit organisation, it relies heavily on financial donations from corporates and the public. Funds raised are used towards lifesaving services and patient assistance programmes for families who cannot afford to take on the costly medical bills.

Donations can be made via, various payment options including EFT, SnapScan, Zapper and Payfast are available for ease of payment.

Feature image: Pixabay

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