74% Surge In Black South Africans Taking Action To Save Lives


Between 2022 and 2023, there was a 74% spike in the number of Black stem cell donors recruited by DKMS Africa. “This is particularly noteworthy, considering the cultural misconceptions that have historically deterred many in the local Black community from registering,” says Palesa Mokomele, the organisation’s Head of Community Engagement and Communications. “In total, more than 23,500 Black potential life savers were recruited to the registry.”

Putting this achievement into perspective, she points out that a stem cell transplant from a matching donor is often a blood cancer patient’s only hope for survival. “A patient’s best chance of a match comes from within their own ethnic group, but in 2021, Black South Africans comprised a mere 10% of donors on the registry available for blood stem cell transplants, meaning that Black, Coloured, Indian and Asian blood cancer patients struggled to find suitable donors, with many being unable to find a match at all. Today, however, the number of Black donors stands at 33% and growing.”

Mokomele attributes this growth to a significant shift in awareness and attitudes amongst the demographic. “We are proud to have played a part in debunking the myths that surround blood stem cell donation and transplantation while also inspiring more South Africans to take action against blood cancer. This we have managed to achieve not only through partnering with various stakeholders, including professionals in Western medicine and traditional healers, but also with those with powerful voices who resonate with this audience such as former Miss South Africa; Shudufhadzo Musida; hip-hop crew, Driemanskap; and actor and comedian Siv Ngesi. Together with community leaders, the media and patients in search of donors who have bravely told their stories, we are changing hearts and minds.”

Another contributing factor was the 400 plus physical donor registration drives conducted around the country, with volunteers educating people and recruiting over 5,000 stem cell donors to the registry.

As a result of all these efforts, the total number of donors now on the DKMS registry across all races increased by 43% over the course of 2023, with ethnically diverse people making up the majority. “This is a testament to South Africans’ willingness to help those in need and be a beacon of hope for those patients awaiting life-saving stem cell transplants,” shares Mokomele.

However, she highlights that the issue of donor availability remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to seeing more positive stories of patients actually getting a second chance at life. “DKMS Africa is committed to giving each patient a fighting chance at life, but we realise that we can’t do this alone and encourage people who have already taken the step to register to complete the journey of donation.”

In 2024, the non-profit aims to reach and inspire more people to register, further increasing the number of donors in general and widening the pool of ethnic donors in particular. This will help ensure that all South Africans battling blood cancers and disorders can have access to matching donors for a transplant. “In doing so, we can delete these diseases,” concludes Mokomele.

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