Donor registrations for bone marrow plummet in the Eastern Cape

Concerns about the second wave of Covid-19 infections have had a devastating effect on the SA Bone Marrow Registry’s (SABMR) ability to physically recruit new donors across the country, including the Eastern Cape.

Nadia Chalkley, head of donor recruitment at the SABMR, said they typically recruit a few hundred new donors from the province annually, but the ongoing pandemic has severely hampered their efforts.

“The shrinking pool of donors has had a material impact on our ability to match patients suffering from life-threatening blood diseases with suitable donors.

“At any given time, there are more than 200 patients in South Africa that need a bone marrow transplant. The fewer donors we have, the lesser the chance of finding a match. For patients living with leukemia, thalassemia and other blood disorders, a bone marrow transplant is their only hope of survival. Currently, the chance of finding a successful match is approximately one in 100,000, which is like finding a needle in a haystack. If donor numbers continue to decline, the odds of finding a suitable match drops even further.”

Chalkley said the SABMR has taken every measure to ensure the safety of donors and patients by allowing the public to register online.

“During the pandemic we also offer at-home-sampling kits, which only requires a cheek swab. These kits can be delivered and collected free of charge from anywhere in the country. Once new donors have completed the online registration form, they will be contacted by one of our consultants to discuss the easiest way of dispatching and collecting the kits,” she said.

“Sadly, more than 70% of patients struggle to find a stem cell match within their own families, which means many rely on strangers for a second chance at life. If local donors are not forthcoming, we have to look overseas for potential matches, which is a costly exercise.”

The SA Bone Marrow Registry are encouraging those between the ages of 16 and 45 to sign up as blood stem cell donors. The overall goal is to ensure the registry becomes as ethnically diverse as possible, as ethnicity plays an important role in a successful blood stem cell transplant.

According to the registry, of the 6.7-million people living in the Eastern Cape, more than 2.8-million are eligible donors.

Chalkley said while she realises Covid-19 has dominated most our lives this past year, people with blood disorders still need our help.

“Each of us have a role to play. This new year put away frivolous resolutions and rather direct your energy into making a difference by signing up as a donor. The simple act could just make someone’s new year’s wish come true!”

If you are interested in becoming a donor, contact the SABMR on (021) 447-8638 or email: For more info, visit


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