Wanted: More bone marrow donors from minority races

Above: Visitors can sign up to be donors at an exhibition chronicling the stories of patients and their donors at 313@Somerset that closes today, or visit BMDP's website at bmdp.org. Left: Fifty "living statues" went on display in Orchard Road to mar
Fifty "living statues" went on display in Orchard Road to mark World Marrow Donor Day yesterday, to represent the 50 patients who are waiting to find a matching donor at any one time.ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN
Above: Visitors can sign up to be donors at an exhibition chronicling the stories of patients and their donors at 313@Somerset that closes today, or visit BMDP's website at bmdp.org. Left: Fifty "living statues" went on display in Orchard Road to mar
Visitors can sign up to be donors at an exhibition chronicling the stories of patients and their donors at 313@Somerset that closes today, or visit BMDP's website at bmdp.org. ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

Rise among Indians, Malays but numbers still short, says group

More Malays and Indians have signed up to become bone marrow donors, though the numbers still fall short of what is needed.

The Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP), which has been trying to recruit more donors from minority races, said that the percentage of Malays who put their names on the donor registry had increased from 6 per cent to 9 per cent, while the figure for Indians went up from 7 per cent to 8 per cent, from last year to July this year.

As the non-profit group marked the second World Marrow Donor Day yesterday, with performances near 313@Somerset mall in Orchard Road, chief executive Jane Prior said that the programme will continue to appeal for more donors.

"We have seen a very slight uptick, but (it is) not significant and we would really like more (donors)... In Singapore, we have good hospital facilities and highly trained doctors," she said. "Yet if a patient has a blood disease and needs a transplant, all the medicine and doctors in the world are not going to save them."

"I tell people it's a little bit like starving to death while standing outside the supermarket because you haven't got the key," she added.

SIMPLE PROCESS

The process of signing up is very simple and takes just about two minutes. I suspect that a lot of people wouldn't mind taking a step forward, but it's just an issue of awareness and inertia... It really does make a difference and saves lives.

MR TAN CHUAN-JIN, Minister for Social and Family Development, who signed up as a bone marrow donor yesterday.

The BMDP is dedicated to expanding and managing Singapore's only register of volunteer bone marrow donors. Bone marrow, which contains stem cells capable of producing red and white blood cells and platelets, helps treat many blood-related diseases such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

The chance of a bone marrow match with unrelated persons is around one in 20,000, and is greatly influenced by ethnicity. About 80 per cent of donors on the registry are Chinese.

Yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan- Jin, the guest of honour, signed up as a bone marrow donor. The process involved taking a cheek swab, which enables a DNA sample of a potential donor to be captured before his details are entered into the database.

"The process of signing up is very simple and takes just about two minutes. I suspect that a lot of people wouldn't mind taking a step forward, but it's just an issue of awareness and inertia... It really does make a difference and saves lives," he said.

The BMDP currently has about 65,000 donors in its local register, and hopes to recruit 50,000 more by the end of 2018. This year, over 13,000 donors have been recruited, and the group has helped facilitate 35 transplants here, 15 of which involved local donors.

At any one time, there are 50 patients waiting for a matching donor.

An exhibition at the central court of 313@Somerset, chronicling the stories of patients and bone marrow donors, ends today. Visitors can sign up as donors there, or at bmdp.org.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 18, 2016, with the headline 'Wanted: More bone marrow donors from minority races'. Print Edition | Subscribe