Every five minutes someone in South Africa is diagnosed with blood cancer and blood disorders but just one mouth swab could be the first step to potentially saving the life of someone in need.
A Steenberg Pharmacy has made this even easier by partnering with an organisation to conduct swabs at the premises to add to the gene pool and ensure those who need stem cell transfusions get the transplants they need as soon as possible.
Being diagnosed with leukemia, a type of blood cancer that affects blood cells in your bone marrow, or other blodd disorders is devastating and often marks the start of a race against time.
For many patients, their only chance of survival is to find a matching blood stem cell donor, or their genetic twin, as fast as possible. That’s why donor profiles with all the relevant information, along with the best possible processes, are so important.
DKMS, formerly known as the Sunflower Fund, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and blood disorders, partnered with Steenberg Pharmacy in Military Road Steenberg to make finding a match easier by widening the gene pool selection.
Palesa Mokomele, director of Communication at DKMS Africa, spoke about the importance of partnering with local pharmacies and other organisations to form part of a global network to assist patients who are in need of life saving treatment.
Seven countries in five different continents including Poland, the US, the UK, Chile and India form part of the network and the aim of the organisation is to grow even more and add several other countries to their global registry.
The organisation is also very involved in facilitating transplants to patients who don’t have easy access to the treatment.
The other reason for the organisation’s partnership with local sectors is to find genetic twins for coloured and black people. People of colour often have diverse DNA patterns and the more diverse your DNA pattern, the more difficult it is to find a genetic twin.
Ms Mokomele gave an expample of a Mitchell’s Plain teen Zyaan Makda, who found a match in Poland, highlighting the importance of being part of an international registry: “We are able to tap into our global registry and be able to look at our diversity not as a problem but as an opportunity to do what we need to.”
She, however, added that it is sometimes difficult for black people to find matches and many die, waiting for a stem cell transplant: “Many black people have died because we just can’t find matches, that’s why it is so important for as many people as possible to get swabbed and become part of our registry so that more lives can be saved.”
The process of becoming a donor is non-invasive, quick and easy – go to one of the locations that offers to take your swab, for free and fill in the accompanied forms.
“It might take 10 years or longer because your profile will then be added to our registry and one day if or when a match needs your help, we will give you a call”, said Ms Mokomele.
The process of donating stem cells is also a non invasive process, much like donating blood.
If you do agree to help someone in need of stem cells you receive medication to prepare the body for donation, go to hospital and extract some of your stem cells which will then be tranfserred to your genetic twin.
Zyaan, now 19, from Rocklands in Mitchells Plain had 13-year wait before she found her match. She was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called heterozygous hemoglobinopathy when she was four years old and between the ages of 9 and 15 had about 250 blood transfusions – until she matched with the Poland donor three years ago.
She eternally grateful to the donor: “Thank you for making the choice to become a stem cell donor, for being so selfless, and for saving my life. There are no words to describe how grateful I am. Now I can finally live.”
Zyaan’s story is just one of the many positive ones but DKMS hopes to save eve more lives trough blood stem donation.
Steenberg pharmacist and owner Kiran Ranchod welcomed DKMS and stressed the importance of getting swabbed: “We understand the importance of increasing the registry with more ethnic pool varieties and we are able to help with this because people from all over come to our pharmacy and we will encourage them to be swabbed. A swab could mean saving someone’s life.
“We often think that these things won’t happen to us but if it does we want to make sure that there is a match out there for you or your family.”
Nazley Noordien, also from the Steenberg pharmacy, said spreading awareness and knowledge about blood stem donation and the process is important because many people don’t know how how it’s done and many don’t know that they can help.
“We are on the ground working with people from various communities so we will be able to inform and hopefully help grow the gene pool.”
To find out more go to the DKMS go to their website https://dkms-africa.org/, or visit their social media pages.