The number of donors on the UK’s stem cell registry fell by 62% from 2019 to 2021, according to the DKMS, an ACLT partner and international bone marrow donor centre.
The organisation, which has registered over 857,000 blood stem cell donors in the country, says the COVID pandemic saw numbers decline sharply, by 28% in 2020 and 47% in 2021.
With someone diagnosed with blood cancer every 20 minutes in the UK, around 2,000 people are searching for their lifesaver at any one time.
In the UK there are three million people registered, worldwide there are tens of millions.
DKMS had a really good year in 2019, the best year that DKMS has had in the UK, where they registered almost 250,000 donors. The following year, despite the pandemic they managed to register 170,000 donors, and then over the last couple of years, they’ve registered less than half of that.
This year they are looking to register about 50,000 donors, which is really quite worrying because they need to constantly register donors to make sure there are enough people available to be a suitable match for anyone who needs a donation. ACLT, DKMS and Anthony Nolan are working to find a match for nine-year-old Zara Kundra, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in October 2019.
Although initially fighting the cancer off, in March 2022, Zara’s family were given the devastating news that her AML had returned.
Her blood count is very low, as a result of the chemotherapy. White blood cells are low, immunity is very low, and she hasn’t eaten anything for many days. She’s on the nutrition line because she’s not able to eat or digest. She’s been poorly and sick, Vikas Kundra, Zara’s father, told Sky News.
“Having fever, pain, vomiting… you name it, she has it at the moment because she has no cells to fight at the moment.” Taruna Jindal Kundra, Zara’s mother, added
“She desperately needs to find a stem cell donor to save her life,” said Mr Kundra, explaining that South Asians are heavily underrepresented on the register.
“It is much more difficult for patients with a diverse ethnic heritage to find a matching donor.”
More than 100 people from a South Asian background attended donor event
A total of 150 people from a South Asian background gathered at an event in Reading where DKMS signed up new donors.
“If someone needs a stem cell donation, the first action is for a search to be carried out on the worldwide register. It’s only at a point where there’s a confirmation that there are no matching stem cell donors available then we need to run this process,” said Mr Kundra.
“The family are really desperate to find a donor, so we’re highlighting Zara’s appeal to try and help find someone from the South Asian community who could be a close match for her.”
Currently, only 2% of the UK population are registered as potential stem cell donors, and just 13% of those on the register come from minority ethnic backgrounds.
This means patients from those communities have a low chance of finding a matching blood stem cell donor.
They are also twice as likely to not find a donor than the white population.
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