Wanted: 50,000 more bone marrow donors

A national register for bone marrow donors wants to increase the volunteers on its programme by more than 80 per cent in three years.

In its largest drive, the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) hopes to recruit 50,000 donors to add to its current 62,000 by 2018.

Last year, BMDP found a match for 58 local patients with leukaemia and other blood diseases, an increase of 20 per cent from 2014.

The BMDP's chief executive officer, Ms Jane Prior, said demand for transplants is predicted to grow 10 per cent annually.

At a press conference yesterday, the organisers said they also aim to boost the number of non-Chinese donors, as two ethnic groups are currently facing a shortage.

Malays make up 6 per cent of the BMDP's national register of 62,000 donors, while 8 per cent are Indians. The hope is to increase representation for each group to at least 12 per cent.

Ms Prior said: "We don't have enough on the register right now. You are more likely to find a match within the race."

A patient has a one in 20,000 chance of finding a match, and a larger donor pool not only increases the chance of finding a match, it also makes treatment much more affordable. A transplant from a local donor will cost about $22,000, while one from a US-sourced donor can cost as much as $65,000.

Anyone aged between 17 and 49 and in good health can sign up as a bone marrow donor at www.projecttomorrow.com.sg. Donors stay on the register till 60.

A cheek swab kit and a form will be sent by post. A donor is asked to donate bone marrow only if found to be a match for a patient.

The procedure most often used involves a relatively painless blood donation, which takes about five to seven hours. Extraction from the hip bone under general anaesthesia happens with one in 10 donors.

Accounts supervisor Sheila A. Nair, 27, made a donation last year.

"I was very excited... It is something I never ever thought I would experience - saving someone's life - and I'd gladly do it again," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline 'Wanted: 50,000 more bone marrow donors'. Subscribe