SA joins UK in allowing under 18s to be bone marrow donors

Johannesburg – South Africa has become the second country in the world to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to sign up as registered bone marrow donors.

The South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) announced that the non-profit organisation received the go-ahead from its Clinical Governance Committee, board members, as well as the National Health Department to allow 16 and 17-year-old teenagers to become bone marrow stem cell donors.

South Africa has now joined the United Kingdom with this move.

Medical Director of SABMR Dr Charlotte Ingram said the recent changes in legislation and advances in stem cell donation was a landmark moment as the chance in joining policy would contribute to saving more lives.

“In general, young people make better donors. Research shows that younger donors are associated with better survival rates for patients following a stem cell transplant,” Ingram said.

The SABMR told The Star on Thursday that young donors were better, because they were less likely to have complications such as heart disease and diabetes, which would prevent them from donating bone marrow.

“With regards to bone marrow transplants, a stem cell’s single lifespan continues, even when that cell is transplanted to another body. Therefore, we want to give our patients the youngest and healthiest stem cells possible to increase their chances of survival,” the non-profit said.

The teenagers can now join by following the same procedure as other donors where previously they had to wait until they were 18-years-old to join the registry.

“While it is not required, it is important for the SABMR to involve parents and address any questions or concerns they may have regarding the procedure and what it entails,” Ingram said.

She added that 18 to 25-year-olds currently only accounted for 6.8% of the SABMR registry.

“Studies tell us that ages 14 to 20 and generation Z (21 to 25) are a lot more self-aware, socially responsible and globally minded than previous generations. They are more concerned about tackling social issues and want to roll up their sleeves and make a difference. Young people today are often drivers of social change movements and we look forward to engaging them,” Ingram said.

The SABMR have about 74 000 donors on its registry, however, the organisation often discovered that many older donors could no longer donate stem cells as they have developed hypertension, heart disease or diabetes.

The SABMR said social media would serve as it’s primary channel to create awareness among youth for now, however, other initiatives are in the pipeline for 2021.

The Star

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