Malays, Indians wanted as bone marrow donors
Bone Marrow Donor Programme targets Malays and Indians to increase odds of saving lives
When Madam Marsita Aman, 33, sees someone with a life-threatening disease, she thinks of her son Rifqi, four (below).
"If he were to fall sick, I would surely want him to have a second chance to fight and carry on with his life," she told The New Paper.
That is why Madam Marsitaregistered with the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP). She is one of 3,720 Malays in the programme.
This is just 6 per cent of the 62,000 currently on the Singapore list and it is not enough, said Ms Jane Prior, chief executive officer of BMDP.
BMDP is a charity responsible for building and managing Singapore's only register of volunteer bone marrow donors and it provides a 365-day service to the hospitals to search the local and overseas registers to find a matching donor for their patients.
"The odds of finding a match are one in 20,000 so we need a large register of volunteers.
"We are trying to target Malays and Indians because there are not enough minority donors on our registry," she said at a media conference yesterday.
Ms Prior said that Indians also make up 6 per cent of donors.
Haematologist Lim Zi Yi said finding a bone marrow match depends on the donor and recipient's human leukocyte antigen types.
The chances of finding a fully matched unrelated donor are greatly influenced by ethnicity, he said.
"This chance is about 40 to 50 per cent for the Chinese, partly because of the large donor pool. It is much harder for Malays and Indians," Dr Lim said, adding that the chances for them is about 20 to 30 per cent.
The target for BMDP in the next three years is to recruit 50,000 new donors, mostly Malays and Indians, to increase the odds for them to get help.
The charity has come up with Project Tomorrow, a multimedia project to raise awareness on how being a donor can help save lives.
"Anyone can be struck with a blood disease at any time. Leukaemia kills more children in Singapore than any other disease," Ms Prior said.
BMDP has also put up interactive videos on YouTube to raise awareness among the young.
The teams at BMDP are also trying to dispel myths such as the idea that donating marrow is very painful and that the marrow is taken from the spine.
According to the BMDP website, the liquid marrow is collected from the pelvic bone in a one-hour procedure. The donor is under general anaesthetic, so no pain is felt.
As for side effects, most donors feel soreness in the lower back for a few days. The marrow will be completely replaced within four to six weeks.
Ms Prior said: "All we need is to have your cheek swabbed for your DNA. It is only when you are confirmed as a match that you undergo a medical examination."
After she learnt the truth, Miss Amanda Sarah Mathew, 27, registered as a bone marrow donor. She said: "I encourage others to come forward."
The odds of finding a match are one in 20,000 so we need a large register of volunteers. We are trying to target Malays and Indians because there are not enough minority donors on our registry.
- Ms Jane Prior, chief executive officer of Bone Marrow Donor Programme
BY THE NUMBERS
The number of people diagnosed daily with a blood-related disease such as leukaemia or lymphoma. Many will not survive without a transplant.
The number of patients waiting to find a matching donor at any one time.
1 in 4
The chances of siblings being a match.
1 in 20,000
The odds of finding a matching donor. Matches are found with donors of the same race most of the time.
The average number of requests the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) receivesevery month. Half of these are from Singapore hospitals.
The number of patients that found a match through BMDP last year.
The number of people on the registry. Only about 7,000 are Malays and Indians.
The number of donors BMDP is planning to recruit in the next three years.
The amount it costs for a transplant from a local donor. It costs $65,000 from a donor sourced overseas.