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State's bone marrow program working to 'spread gifts of life'

By Shan Juan  (China Daily)

09:23, May 09, 2013

The China Marrow Donor Program, which holds information about 1.65 million donor volunteers, held an open house in Beijing on Wednesday to mark World Red Cross Day. Program officials hope to sign up more volunteers, as the number in China is still low. Jiang Dong / China Daily

China's only State-level nonprofit bone marrow bank had by the end of April helped successfully facilitate 114 overseas donations involving 10 countries and regions across the world including the United States, South Korea, and Afghanistan.

Hong Junling, director of the China Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Red Cross Society of China, revealed the figures at a Wednesday media event to mark World Red Cross Day, which falls on May 8 each year.

"After joining the World Marrow Donor Association in July, we have received an increasing number of requests from people overseas seeking matching stem cells, and we'll try our best to spread the 'gifts of life'," he said.

Meanwhile, he welcomed foreigners who stay in China for a long period of time to become donors in the CMDP.

"We have to make sure that we can find the enlisted volunteers while needed," he said.

Founded in 1992, the bank has registered 1.65 million volunteers, mainly Chinese, in its database, becoming the fourth-largest in the world after the United States, Germany and Brazil.

But he conceded that is still quite low given China's large population.

Hematopoietic stem cells transplants can treat a variety of blood diseases such as leukemia and anemia, medical experts say.

In the US, out of every 10,000 people, there are 344 enlisted donor volunteers who have promised to pull up their sleeves when called upon, according to the World Marrow Donor Association, which was established in 1988. The association has enlisted more than 20 million volunteers in more than 60 countries and regions including China.

By contrast, the figure on the Chinese mainland is only 13 out of every 10,000 people.

The larger the number of the volunteers, the higher possibility for patients to land a match, said Tong Chunrong, a blood disease specialist at the Ludaopei Hematology Oncology Center.

"Due to China's family planning policy, which limits most families to only one child, it's getting difficult to land a match among siblings. So it's important to enroll more volunteers and keep growing the database," she said.

According to Hong Junling, the bank has facilitated 3,420 donations.

"Actually, we've found far more matches for the requests from patients," he said.

Some candidates decided not to donate for various reasons, he said, adding that the refusal rate in China is much higher than in developed countries.

Some patients gave up treatment due to financial reasons, Hong added.

Another challenge is the loss of volunteers.

"It happens from time to time that we fail to contact a volunteer when we detect a match," he said, urging volunteers to always update their contact information.

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