DKMS Africa aims to improve chances for blood cancer patients

Last year, The Sunflower Fund and DKMS joined forces in a partnership to give as many patients with different types of life-threatening blood disorders as possible a second chance at life.


In May 2020, the organisations formed a partnership to register as many potential blood stem cell donors as possible. Growing the diversity of the donor pool by collaborating across borders is key to helping patients, in need of a life-saving blood stem cell transplant, with finding a matching donor quickly – not only in South Africa and other African countries, but also worldwide.

The collaboration proved so successful that we decided to extend our temporary commitment into a full membership. On March 25, 2021 The Sunflower Fund became DKMS Africa and with that a full member of the DKMS Group.

Incredible journey

Alana James, Country Executive Director DKMS Africa, said: “Our journey together has been absolutely incredible right from the start. The beginning of our partnership coincided with the onset of Covid-19, prompting us to make many operational changes. We are delighted to have risen to the challenges because we recruited overwhelming numbers during this period.

“In light of the ongoing global pandemic our partnership with DKMS has been a crucial step towards fulfilling our common mission to grow the registry into one that is representative of under-represented ethnicities, and, in particular, those of African descent. We are fully committed to giving as many patients as possible a second chance at life. As a member of the DKMS Group we will whole-heartedly continue to pursue this mission.”

Alana James Country Executive Director DKMS Africa seated at launch event

Combining strengths to bring hope

Every 27 seconds worldwide and every five minutes in South Africa someone is diagnosed with blood cancer or other life-threatening blood disorders such as thalassemia or sckle cell disease.

For many of these patients, their only hope of cure is a blood stem cell transplant from a matching donor.

Only one third of patients find that match 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.

Rainbow nation

Tissue characteristics are heavily influenced by the ethnic background and vary according to genetics and region. Alana James said: “South Africa’s rainbow nation is at a distinct disadvantage, requiring a large pool of prospective donors. As part of an international organisation, we will be able to raise more awareness for our cause and register more donors to increase the likelihood of finding a matching unrelated blood stem cell donor for patients.

"As DKMS Africa, our goal is to recruit a continent-wide ethnically diverse registry of donors committed to helping anyone in need of a life-saving transplant.”

Increasing the ethnic diversity of the worldwide donor pool

Dr. Elke Neujahr, Global CEO DKMS

Dr. Elke Neujahr, Global CEO DKMS, said: “A donor match could come from anywhere in the world, thus it is important that we expand our international reach. For the second chance at life, we cross borders, collaborate globally and leave no stone unturned to help patients – regardless of their geographic location. Every patient deserves that chance.”

With DKMS Africa, the organisation is now active in seven countries on five continents. “Only together we can make a big impact in the lives of patients with blood disorders in South Africa and across the globe,” Dr. Elke Neujahr added.

10.5 million donors and counting

Currently, more than 10.5 million donors are registered with DKMS worldwide. These people are on stand-by to provide life-saving stem cell transplants to patients in need and every committed donor knows, how important it is to support the fight against blood cancer.

Dr. Neujahr added: “To date, and thanks to our selfless and wonderful donors, we have been able to provide more than 91.000 second chances at life to patients in 57 countries. It is my vision for our organisation that we will have 20 million donors registered with us and that we will be active in 20 countries by 2030. That’s my dream.”

Typing according to the latest scientific standards

For many patients, the search for a donor is the beginning of a race against time. The faster a suitable donor is found, the better the chances of survival for patients.

“Our advanced typing program ensures that doctors have access to the most important and relevant information to match donors with patients in need of a transplant: A key factor when it comes to winning this race,” said Dr. Elke Neujahr.

DKMS is continuously working on new approaches and optimizing existing processes in order to improve the quality of the donor’s findings. DKMS strives to maintain the highest HLA typing standard, staying abreast of the newest scientific findings, in order to provide the most efficient and detailed donor selection process.

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