Registry aims to sign up 20,000 bone marrow donors by 2015

Last year, 73 people here were identified as potential bone marrow donors, but only seven of them ended up going through with the transplant.

Some had to drop out because they were incompatible after further testing, others had outdated contact information and some simply opted not to go through with the procedure.

This is why the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) needs more names on its donor registry.

Despite falling 2,000 names short of its target of 7,000 new donor sign-ups last year, the BMDP is still aiming to add 20,000 more names to its database by 2015.

"We are aiming for 8,000 this year, and 8,000 more in 2015," said BMDP president Jane Prior. "There is no letting up on the big target."

There are currently 60,000 names on the registry.

BMDP hopes to ramp up donor numbers by stepping up recruitment in schools.

This year, it began collaborating with the National Institute of Education to train potential teacher ambassadors who will help spread the word to their students.

"This year is going to be all about advocacy," Ms Prior said. "About 70 per cent of donor

recruitment comes from the education sector - the polytechnics and universities."

A large pool of potential donors is necessary because the odds of finding a match within the same racial group are only one in 20,000.

While hospitals here are fully equipped to carry out life-saving bone marrow transplants, Ms Prior said, not many such transplants are actually done because of the lack of local donors.

Five out of six transplants last year were carried out in hospitals here with bone marrow obtained from overseas. The BMDP receives an average of 25 new requests for transplants a month.

About 50 people are on the waiting list at any one time.

Yet, Ms Prior remains optimistic. The number of short-listed donors last year doubled from 2012, and she expects this number to double again this year.

About 15 people have been called up for further tests so far this year.

Ms Prior said that some of the most successful donor drives have occurred when a patient sends out a public request for bone marrow - especially if it is on social media.

"If a company knows someone who is affected, sign-ups massively increase," Ms Prior said.

"The big deal is if it is patient-led. We are so small, but social media is so powerful."

linettel@sph.com.sg

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