Gen Zs are stepping up to the plate to donate their bone marrow, according to the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SAMBR). Since allowing teens aged 16 to 17 to donate their bone marrow to stem cell donors, the SAMBR says it has seen a massive 65% increase in youth sign-ups.
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 a SABMR advert asking the public to join the registry and was prompted to sign up. Being charitable raises the emotional wellbeing of not just the receiver, but the giver as well.”
While 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 a volunteer.
“A family member was diagnosed with leukaemia. Sadly, she passed away as no donor match was found,” she says.
She tells Health For Mzansi, “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.”
Your bone marrow can save a life
Nadia Chalkley, head of donor recruitment at SABMR, says that youth response has been well received.
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.
“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 allowed us to educate and debunk many of the myths that surround bone marrow stem cell donation.”
“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 able to give financially, they want to give in other ways.”
The power is in your hands
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.
Chalkley adds that South African youth are a growing and influential population that has the power to change societal perceptions. This includes perceptions around climate change, corruption, addiction, or bone marrow stem cell donation.
“They have the energy and enthusiasm and can offer fresh perspectives on relevant issues.”
She adds that the registration steps are easy and all it takes is completing an online health history questionnaire and a cheek swab.
“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.”
The SABMR’s goal is to sign up another 1 000 donors by the end of June.
- Looking to donate? Contact the SABMR on 021 447 8638 or email: email@example.com.