NATIONAL NEWS - Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.
A large number of cancer patients globally do not have access to timely quality diagnosis and treatment.
This is also the case when it comes to blood cancer, which makes up approximately seven per cent of all cancers.
“Every five minutes someone in South Africa is diagnosed with blood cancer or other life-threatening blood disorders such as Thalassemia.
“For many of these patients their only hope of a cure is a stem cell transplant from a matching donor,” said Dr David Brittain, clinical haematologist at Albert Alberts Stem Cell Transplant Centre in Pretoria
Only one third of patients find a matching donor in their own family.
The majority, therefore, depend on an unrelated donor, whose relevant tissue characteristics, so-called HLA characteristics match those of the patient as closely as possible.
Finding a match is far more complex compared to matching blood types.
“A successful blood stem cell transplant needs a HLA tissue match.
“Globally, doctors activate searches on a daily basis for donors in order to save their patients’ lives.
“A donor match could come from anywhere in the world,” said Brittain.
Thus, the Sunflower Fund and DKMS have joined forces to register as many potential blood stem cell donors as possible with the most diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Growing the diversity of the donor pool by collaborating across borders is key when it comes to helping patients worldwide in need of a life-saving blood stem cell transplant with finding a match swiftly.
Now in its 20th year, The Sunflower Fund brings a wealth of expertise in the recruitment of stem cell donors and building an ethnically diverse registry of committed donors from across South Africa, Namibia, Ghana and Nigeria.
The organisation also maintains a patient support fund to assist patients who are unable to afford costs associated with getting to a transplant.
The Sunflower Fund and DKMS were both founded from a personal story, of families losing a loved one.
The formation of The Sunflower Fund in 1999, was inspired by the heroic struggle against leukaemia of two brave young men, Darren Serebro and Chris Corlett.
While he was in treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), Corlett painted a picture, which he titled ‘Sunflowers of Hope’.
This was the main inspiration for the name of The Sunflower Fund by his mom, Tina Botha, the founder of the organisation.
DKMS’s story began when Mechtild Harf was told that the only treatment for her leukaemia was a bone marrow transplant and that she had no matching family members.
At the time, there were only 3 000 potential stem cell donors on the German registry to provide a transplant.
Her husband, Peter Harf, founded DKMS in 1991 and within one year, the registry counted 68 000 potential donors.
Harf, however, did not survive, but she made her husband promise her that he would not stop fighting until every patient had a matching donor.
“Diseases do not respect borders, nor can our work be restricted by borders,” added Alana James, CEO of the Sunflower Fund.
“We are driven by a simple ethos: to best serve our patients, we cannot simply address the problem at hand, but must look to the future to anticipate the needs of the people whose lives rely on our work,” said Dr Elke Neujahr, Global CEO of DKMS.
With almost 10 million available donors and nearly 85 000 transplants facilitated, DKMS is the largest network of donor centres in the world.
The impact of the organisation is remarkable, with 40 per cent of all unrelated blood stem cell transplants worldwide made possible by DKMS donors.
This collaboration enables DKMS to contribute their experience in raising awareness of blood cancer and blood stem cell transplantation, of running an international registry and providing high quality blood stem cell products, bringing hope to people all over the world.
About The Sunflower Fund
The Sunflower Fund is a donor recruitment centre and stem cell registry for Africa and is part of a global network, dedicated to creating awareness about blood diseases and stem cell donation, recruiting blood stem cell donors and maintaining a registry of committed donors.
The Sunflower Fund pays for the cost of the tissue-type testing.
This is fundamental to saving the lives of South Africans and patients globally who need a stem cell transplant.
The chance of finding a matching donor is 1 in 100 000, and as ethnic origin plays a significant role in the search for a donor, South Africa’s rainbow nation is at a distinct disadvantage, requiring a large pool of prospective donors.
DKMS is an international non-profit organisation dedicated to the fight against blood cancer.
Founded in 1991 in Germany by Dr Peter Harf, DKMS has expanded internationally in recent years by establishing entities in the US, Poland, the UK, Chile, together with BMST in India and together with The Sunflower Fund in South Africa.
Together, they have registered more than 9.9 million potential blood stem cell donors and have given more than 84 000 patients across the globe a second chance at life by facilitating blood stem cell transplants.