Red Cross urges stem cell funding
Nearly 1,700 patients waiting on donors
The Thai Red Cross Society (TRC) has urged the government to increase funding for stem cell schemes to help people with blood diseases.
TRC yesterday said there is a need to increase the number of people donating stem cells from their blood or bone marrow, but the test to find a potential donor does not come cheap.
According to TRC, it has registered about 209,983 unrelated donors since 2002. But only 217 recipients have so far matched with donors and had successful transplants.
“The more donors we get, the better our chances of saving more lives,” said Ubonwan Jarunreungrit, director of the National Blood Centre of the Thai Red Cross Society.
Dr Ubonwan said although the number of stem cell donors in Thailand has grown steadily since 2002, it is still far lower than demand, with almost 1,700 patients in Thailand on a life-or-death waiting list hoping for a match.
The search for a stem cell match usually starts with the patient’s siblings, which has a 25% chance of success, she said. But with unrelated donors, the match rate is far lower, with a one in 10,000 chance, she said.
Dr Ubonwan said limited funding had hindered the processing of stem cell donations, an expensive process.
Each donor must undergo a test that costs about 2,000 baht to identify their human leucocyte antigen (HLA) typing. HLA is a protein found on most cells in the body.
The HLA results are then entered into the Donor Registry system which automatically matches recipients with potential donors.
In case the HLA-typing of a donor is identified as a potential match, the donor will be contacted by the National Registry.
Stem cell transplants can now be performed in only five hospitals with advanced equipment across the country, but many patients with blood cancer live in rural areas. Four of the five hospitals — Ramathibodi, Siriraj, Chulalongkorn and Phramongkutklao — are in Bangkok. The only hospital performing the service outside the capital is Songklanagarind Hospital in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district.
Even if a match is found, patients may not be able to afford the transplant costs of up to 1.2 million baht because the government’s Civil Servant Welfare, Social Security and Universal Coverage schemes do not cover the full cost of transplants.
“We need support from the government to bring more stem cell donors into the pool and reduce the cost of transplants. We also need support from the media to raise public awareness and understanding of how stem cell donations can breathe new life into ailing and suffering people,” Dr Ubonwan said.
Dr Ubonwan said TRC has set a target of 300,000 donors for its registry in the long run, adding it would match with the number of patients with blood diseases in Thailand.
In honour of World Marrow Donor Day, TRC yesterday held an event called “Thank You Stem Cell Donor” at its headquarters on Henry Dununt Road to raise awareness about the need for donors and to get potential donors to sign up.
To register as a donor in Thailand, people can visit the Thai Red Cross National Blood Centre and join the Thai Stem Cell Donor Registry by calling +66 (2) 256-4300 or +66 (2) 252-1637.