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Cultural misconceptions around blood stem cell donation deters South Africans from saving lives

Cultural misconceptions around blood stem cell donation deters South Africans from saving lives

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The likelihood of obtaining a compatible donor for a potentially life-saving blood stem cell transplant on a national or worldwide registry is less than 20% for a patient of African heritage with blood cancer or a blood disease.

This is because just 10% of donors are of African descent, and since similar HLA traits are required for a match, a patient's own ethnic group has the highest chance of being a match.

Palesa Mokomele, Director of Corporate Communications at DKMS. says that within the black community in particular there is a general lack of awareness in terms of blood disorders.

“Breast and cervical cancer are well-known, but the other types don't have the same level of public awareness. Blood cancers are just as common as other cancers, as evidenced by the fact that someone is diagnosed with one every 72 minutes,” Mokomele told IOL lifestyle.

“Blood cancers are prevalent, as seen by our statistics, but do those who have them know the gravity of their condition? Most patients receive incorrect diagnosis, and some never even receive treatment since they are still receiving primary care.”

Ahead of Heritage Day, Makhosi Nomabutho, the founder of the Sangoma Society and a consultant for DKMS Africa, said:"If trees are medicine, how could our bodies not also be medicine? And why shouldn't I use the medicine that lives within the blood and bones that my ancestors have given me to heal and sustain another person's life?

“Many people are cautious about their blood and blood stem cells since these contain the essence of your DNA and can be used to syphon your strength or as part of a hex against you, so they might be reluctant to donate,” explained Makhosi.

Cultural misconceptions around blood stem cell donation deters South Africans from saving lives
Makhosi Nomabutho.Picture supplied

There are those who navigate the healthcare space with mistrust of Western medicine and believe that blood and blood stem cell donation will mean that their power will be taken from them. Theories like these emanate from within the informal environment and thrive as people still recover from the impact of colonisation.

Traditional healers have a huge impact on how people and communities react to cancer as an illness, how it's diagnosed, and how it's treated. Makhosi points out that respect for Western medicine is essential among healers.

“With between 60% and 80% of South Africans consulting a traditional healer before seeing a primary healthcare practitioner, we have a responsibility to work holistically with them, which also means educating them and pointing them in the right direction to get treatment. Clearing up long held, yet misguided misconceptions standing in the way of their healing forms part of this too.”

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.

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