Many South Africans with diseases like leukaemia, yearly reached 'a critical point where the only possible cure is a bone marrow transplant'.
The South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) is on a crusade to encourage black South Africans to donate, due to soaring numbers of people of colour dying from blood diseases and related cancers.
Out of 74,000 registered donors, about 30% are people of colour: blacks, coloureds and Indians.
According to SABMR spokewoman Sarah Belle Selig, the picture made it less likely that there would be a donor available for a black patient needing a transplant.
Donating bone marrow, said Selig, has changed in the last few decades – making it faster, non-invasive and virtually painless for donors.
Stellenbosch law graduate Sibongile Jimlongo, who donated bone marrow at the age of 25, said: “You have a huge number of people using traditional medicine to try and heal themselves. The numbers we’re seeing are only a small portion of the true number of people in desperate need.”
Masakhe Tofu, a former donor recruitment support officer at the SABMR, recalled when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer – reluctant to go for chemotherapy, because she believed the treatment would kill her.
“Modern medicine is almost a last resort for older black people. They are treated at home until they can no longer help themselves. In the local hospitals like in Khayelitsha, doctors aren’t explaining to patients or relatives there are solutions,” said Tofu.
Durban donor Sithokozile Mbele, 30, said there was “a massive taboo” against cancer in the black community.
“People still believe that African people don’t get cancer – they think it’s a white people’s sickness.”
Many South Africans with immune deficiency syndromes and blood diseases like leukaemia, yearly reached “a critical point where the only possible cure is a bone marrow transplant”.
Said Selig: “Donors are usually found in the patient’s ethnic group, with that number being higher for people of colour – given the lack of ethnic diversity in bone marrow donor registries worldwide.”