Frequently asked questions

Please read and understand the information below when making your decision.

1How would I help?

Every year thousands of South Africans of all ages and races are diagnosed with diseases such as leukaemia, aplastic anaemia or some rare genetic disorders. At times their only hope of survival is a blood stem cell transplant from a donor who shares the same tissue type. Without this transplant it would mean certain death. It all depends on ordinary people like you … YOU could be the MATCH for someone with leukaemia or other life threatening blood disorders.

The chances of finding a match are about 1 in 100 000 and it could be you! You may well be the only one in the world who could save a life.

2Who do we need as donors?
Every healthy person between 18 and 45 can be a donor. “Tissue-types” are inherited characteristics, and this is what is used to match donors and patients. As ethnic origin plays a significant role in the search for a donor, South Africa’s rainbow nation requires a large pool of prospective stem cell donors.
3What is the South Africa Bone Marrow Registry?
It is an organisation that searches for potential stem cell donors both in South Africa and internationally. It was started in 1991 and has been designated as the hub centre for the African continent. As such, we are responsible for coordinating the provision of unrelated donors for our patients in association with a worldwide database.
4Why do people need bone marrow transplants?
Every year, thousands of individuals with blood diseases such as leukaemia, marrow failure or aplasia, and inherited metabolic and immune deficiency syndromes reach a stage where only a stem cell transplant can drive the disease into remission.
5Why are unrelated donors needed?
Family members, particularly brothers and sisters are generally most suitable. However, due to the average family size, only a small percentage of patients have a compatible sibling match. About 75 % will have to search for an unrelated matched donor.
6How do bone marrow transplants save lives?
The patient’s diseased marrow is destroyed by combinations of cytotoxic drugs and radiation. The stem cells from the healthy donor is given intravenously. Thereafter the blood-forming stem cells travel to cavities in the large bones and, following engraftment, begin producing normal blood.
7What is bone marrow?
This is the tissue that could be regarded as the factory for the production of red cells to carry oxygen, white cells to fight infection and platelets to prevent bleeding.
8How are donors and patients matched?
In the same way as red cell blood groups exist, so white cells may be categorised into groups known as “tissue-types”. Very many possible tissue types exist, so that finding the correct match depends upon having a very large register of volunteers.
9What does the donor initially do?
Volunteers, if deemed to be suitable, need to have a small blood sample taken, which is sent to specialised laboratories for tissue-typing. The results are placed on the national registry.
10What happens next?
Possible matching donors will be asked to provide further blood samples to help select the donor who matches best for a particular patient.
11Can I change my mind?

A donor can withdraw from the registry at any time. However, if a match is found and the donor commits to the procedure, a point is reached when withdrawing will have serious, possibly fatal consequences for the patient.

We would prefer to have committed donors, as you may be the only one in the world who can provide that match. Most donors are delighted to hear that they have been chosen to donate – after all, that’s why they joined the registry.

12How are stem cells donated?
The stem cells may be obtained a simple procedure called peripheral blood stem cell collection ‘harvests’ the cells that are needed for a transplant. This is similar to the blood donation process but just takes a bit longer (4 to 6 hours).
13Are there any side effects for the donor?
Sibling transplants have been taking place for more than 10 years; a short-term side effect is flu-like symptoms during G-CSF stimulation and a small percentage of donors have also reported mild bone pain after making the donation.
14Where would I donate?
The medical procedure for obtaining stem cells is called a harvest. If you are asked to donate, you would be required to attend a specialist harvest centre in South Africa at no cost to the donor.
15Is a transplant a definite cure?

Unfortunately, the field of stem cell transplantation is complex and a number of patients still die of complications, despite the best medical care.

Increasing numbers of successful transplants are being carried out using matched unrelated donors. However, donors can only be assured that they offer the hope of a future to patients whose disease would almost certainly otherwise prove fatal.

16Where can I join?
Donors are recruited on behalf of the SABMR by The Sunflower Fund. For more information please call: 0800-12-10-82.
17Keep in contact.

It is vitally important that you keep us updated with your current contact details – so that you can be found when you are needed, because your details are kept on the registry until you are 60 years old!

Remember that all information that you supply is kept strictly confidential.

Click here for Donor recruitment policy

Hope begins with you.