In India, we see almost a lakh new cases of blood disorders each year and India ranks third highest in reported cases of blood cancer, after the US and China. This growing burden is a serious concern for public health administrators in India and it is important to create awareness about the condition and treatment options available.
What most people are unaware of is that blood cancer can be managed, and a patient can have a second chance at life with the treatment options available. Most of the patients require a blood stem cell transplant to survive, especially patients who cannot be treated with chemotherapy.
Worldwide India has the highest ratio of searches on transplantations not resulting in a match as only 0.03 per cent of the Indian population has registered as potential blood stem cell donors, which is significantly lower than many other countries.
The year 2020 has been the toughest one for blood cancer patients; delay in transplants, therapies and blood stem cell donations have affected the lives of many patients in need. So, with 2020 passing by, this New Year, why not make a resolution that will just take 5 minutes of your time but can give hope of a second chance at life to a blood cancer patient?
For a blood successful stem cell transplant, patients need to find a matching blood stem cell donor. Only about 30 per cent of the patients in need of a stem cell transplant as life-saving treatment can find a sibling match. The rest 70 per cent depend on finding a matching unrelated donor. An unrelated donor can be any healthy individual between 18 and 50 years of age and residing in India.
In September 2018, Suneel, a techie from Bengaluru, registered as a potential blood stem cell donor and within a few months, he was found to be a match for a patient. He went through a thorough medical check-up and doctor’s clearance before the donation process. After having completely understood the donation process and its impact on his recipient, Suneel donated his blood stem cells and gave a blood cancer patient a second chance at life.
- To become a lifesaver, you need to register as a blood stem cell donor with any stem cell registry in India. You can register online and request a DIY (do it yourself) swab kit at home.
- After receiving the swab kit, you will need to do take a cheek-swab sample and fill a registration form, then with a simple post you can send them back to the registry.
- When the swabs sample is received by the laboratory, they are analysed to determine your human leukocyte antigens (HLA) tissue characteristics.
- When a blood cancer patient is looking for a matching donor, a search is carried out to find an unrelated donor. The national registry is searched first, but the search regularly goes global as well, checking all international registries to find the best possible matched donor.
- Moreover, when you come up as a match for a patient, you will go through the confirmatory typing (CT) process. The medical coordinators will contact you and they will guide you through each step. You will be requested to have medical tests to ensure your health status.
- If you are the best match for the patient, you will then go through to the “work-up” stage in preparation for your donation. You will have a further medical assessment and consultation at a specialist collection center (where you will later donate your blood stem cells).
Blood stem cell donation is done via the peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation procedure, which is similar to blood platelet donation. During PBSC, blood is taken from one of your arms, passed through a machine that separates your blood stem cells, and then the rest of the blood is returned to your other arm. After a blood stem cell donation, the body quickly regenerates the level of blood stem cells to what they were before the donation. Therefore, it is a completely non-surgical process and there’s nothing to lose but you gain an opportunity to help someone with a second chance at life!
(The author is CEO, DKMS BMST Foundation India)
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