Charities call for more black and Asian people to donate stem cells after donor numbers halved since pandemic

Antoinette Carr has been waiting nine years to be matched with a stem cell donor, which could extend her life by decades.

The mum of two used to work full time but everything changed when she was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer in 2012.

"Myeloma has ruined my life," she said, adding: "I've had to go through eight different types of chemotherapy throughout the years.

"Just before the pandemic I gained 13 spinal fractures because the myeloma had spread to my spine with collapsed vertebrae. It left me unable to walk for a while. I've lost three inches in height."

Blood stem cells are desperately needed for people with blood cancer and disorders, but the number of new donors which came forward in 2022 more than halved compared to 2020.

Blood stem cell donation charity DKMS and the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust are particularly calling for black and Asian people to register as donors and have launched a campaign called Gob For Good, to help find more life-saving donor matches.

Patients from black, Asian or other minority backgrounds have a 37% chance of finding the best possible stem cell donor match, compared to 72% for people who are white.

Patients are most likely to be successfully matched with a donor from the same ethnicity as themselves, but fewer people come forward to register as potential donors from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Orin Lewis, co-founder of the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, said the black community can be mistrustful of health authorities.

"Within our community there have been lots of myths and fears and taboos about giving something of yourself triggered by what's been done historically to the black race for hundreds and hundreds of years," he said.

"What we've had to do is educate our community, to get people to realise that my ethnicity can be an assistance to someone."

Read more: Campaign launched to encourage more black people to give blood - with data showing they only make up 1% of donors

Raising awareness of the importance of signing up to the register is key to improving matches for people around the world.

Natasha Osunde immediately registered as a donor after hearing about the campaign on the radio.

"Hearing the radio presenter talk about the young child's blood cancer diagnosis and how his life could be saved by people from the black and mixed-race community stopped me in my tracks," she said.

"The request was for the community to attend the donor registration drive at Leicester Square. All the registrants needed to do on the day was to provide a saliva sample, it was a no-brainer for me."

It was another 15 years before Natasha received a call informing her that she was a match for someone living with blood cancer and asked whether she would be happy to move forward to become a lifesaving stem cell donor.

''I'd do it tomorrow in a heartbeat. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life."