Covid-19 leads to shortage of bone marrow donors

The SA Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) says their ability to recruit new donors has been severely limited by the outbreak of the second Covid-19 wave.

SABMR head of donor recruitment Nadia Chalkley said they typically recruit a few hundred new donors each year from the Eastern Cape.

“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,” she said.

“At any given time, there are more than 200 patients in SA that need a bone marrow transplant. The fewer donors we have, the lesser the chance of finding a match. For patients with leukemia, thalassemia and other blood disorders, a bone marrow transplant is their only hope of survival.”

Chalkley said the the current odds of finding a successful match is about one in 100,000 and will only get worse as the donor pool continues to shrink.

“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 costly.”

She said SABMR was working hard to ensure the safety of donors and patients by allowing online registration.

“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.”

One of the biggest misconceptions with regards to bone marrow donation, according to Chalkley, is that it involves large needles being pushed into one’s spine.

However, the most common form of donation is what’s called peripheral blood stem cell collection, since the same blood-forming cells found in bone marrow are also present in circulating blood.

The process is similar to donating plasma and doesn’t require surgery.

In order to register as a bone marrow donor, you must be between the ages of 16 and 45 and meet the required standards listed by the SABMR.

A full list of the criteria can be found at

“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,” Chalkley said.

Visit the SABMR website, call 021-447-8638 or email


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