Pandemic Affecting Blood Cancer Patients Getting A Second Chance At Life

As per Globocan 2020 report, India has the 3rd highest incidence of blood cancer in the world, with over 1 lakh people being diagnosed every year. The third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has again disrupted the effective treatment for blood cancer patients in the country. The situation is especially challenging for blood cancer patients as they are immunodeficient (lack of antibodies/immune cells that are produced as an immune response to any foreign matter entering the body) and are at a high risk of contracting infections.

This is a serious worry for all blood cancer and blood disorder patients across the country as they remain vulnerable to the crisis that has unfolded and await patiently to find their matching blood stem cell donor.


A stem cell transplant (Peripheral Blood Stem Cell collection) offers the best chance of survival for blood cancer and blood disorders like Thalassemia and Aplastic Anemia. This transplant can come from a sibling or a family member. However, there is only a 30% chance of finding a matched sibling donor in the family. The remaining patients must search for a Matched Unrelated Donor (MUD) from a Registry or Donor Centre—a database of voluntary donors between the age group of 18 to 50 years.

To register potential donors, various physical drives are held across the country with different corporates, colleges, and other associations, to achieve a greater chance of finding the right donor for a patient.

As of now, stem cell registries like DKMS BMST Foundation India cannot set up physical drives or registration events as the government imposes stringent rules and regulations due to the increase in Covid-19 caseload over the past few months.

With the Covid scare induced yet again, mass registration from these drives has fallen drastically. This has resulted in many patients having to wait longer to find a matching blood stem cell donor.

As the matches are ethnicity driven, it is even more difficult for an Indian patient to find a matching donor for a blood stem cell transplant, as only 0.04% of the population is registered as potential blood stem cell donors in Indian registries.

Moreover, it is also important to consider the health and safety of the donors who are asked to donate their blood stem cells during this unprecedented time. Proper screening guidelines for Covid -19 is being followed before entry into collection centres and before the start of the donation. These measures serve to protect the donor as well as the employees in the collection centres.


To tackle this situation, digital mediums have been leveraged to push forward the convenience and safety of collecting samples from the comfort of the donor’s home. One can register online by filling out a form on the website, after which a DIY swab kit is sent to their registered address. The potential donor is supposed to swab the cheeks and send the samples back for HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) typing. After the HLA or tissue has been typed in an advanced laboratory, the details are available in the global search for blood stem cell donors.

It is one in a million chance that a patient finds a match! Online registrations have become very effective to register and reaching out to more people across the country. DKMS BMST has received over 47000 swab kit requests in 2021 through our online efforts.

Amidst this pandemic, we should not forget that there are still lakhs of patients in India who are suffering from blood disorders, and they need our support. So, it is important to spread awareness among people to register online as potential blood stem cell donors to help and contribute to saving lives through a simple outpatient process of donating blood stem cells. This will surely ensure an Indian patient at any corner of the world, a second chance at life.

The writer is CEO, DKMS BMST Foundation India.

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