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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Very few Sabahans stem cell donors

KOTA KINABALU - Voluntary stem cell donors among the state’s diversified people are very low in Malaysia.

Sabah Health Department director Christina Rundi said the state has thus far conducted 11 stem cell transplants in Sabah since the first procedure was done on a 12-year-old girl with leukemia on October 31, 2014 at the nuclear and radiotherapy medical centre (PPNR) of Sabah Women and Children Hospital (HWKKS).

The procedure was performed only on matched sibling transplants, majority for severe aplastic anaemia, followed by beta-thalassemia and chronic myeloid.

Christina said the hospital is striving to extend the services by including matched unrelated transplant but it is very difficult to get a match from non-related donors.

“The Malaysian Stem Cell Registry (MSCR), situated at the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur, manages the database for all volunteers. Among the donors, there are very few Sabahans,” she confirmed.

Christina said patients without a matched sibling donor will eventually succumb to their disease, so voluntary stem cell donors are very important to offer these group of patients a second chance.

However, the people in Sabah have a harder time finding an unrelated match as the gene pool of its people are very diverse and unique.

The director said this to some 1,000 people from various higher learning institutions, NGOs, patient support groups and others when officiating the First Stem Cell Transplant Awareness Forum and Recruitment of Stem Cell Donor Drive at Dewan Resital in Universiti Malaysia Sabah here yesterday.

Christina revealed that the drive started way back in 2000, with the highest number of pledges being made by 400 people consisting of Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) staff.

“Please come forward, not just because we want to break the record only, but we are here to make a difference in somebody else’s life,” she urged.

“Greatness is not in what we have, but greatness is in what you give. So I hope you give the greatness within yourself,” added Christina.

The director also discouraged anyone from bartering monetary rewards for any type of donations as it would contribute to killing the spirit of volunteerism in the country.

“Lastly I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizing committee, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr Masita and team, and lastly to each and everyone present here today for your commitment and support,” she said.

Meanwhile, HWKKS paediatric haemato-oncologist Dr Kogilavani Gunasagaran said debunking myths and enlightening some of the apprehensive public are an important aspect that would ultimately lead to cure.

“It’s high time that we share some important aspects of this unique stem cell transplant since this service was started one and a half years ago,” she said in her speech.

“At the same time, we would like to dispel some myths surrounding stem cell transplant and make our community more acceptable to this medical therapy. The best treatment has no value if the patients are unable to accept it.

“On this same special occasion, we would like to highlight that everyone of us are given the opportunity to make a difference in a patient’s life by volunteering ourselves to be a stem cell donor. Stem cell donation is very unique because our body will regenerate new stem cells to replace the donated ones,” added Kogilavani.

Only a saliva sample or buccal mucosa sample was taken from those pledging to be a volunteer donor yesterday.

“The Women and Children Hospital will continue to support the stem cell donor drive by providing on-going donor registration. Members of the public can visit our stem cell transplant ward to be registered during our normal working hours,” said Kogilavani.

Among the distinguished guests present at the launch were Universiti Malaysia Sabah Medicine and Health Sciences Faculty (Academic & Student Affairs) deputy dean Professor Dr Ahmad Faris, Sabah Women and Children Hospital director Dr Tan Bee Hwai, the hospital’s former Paediatric Department head Datuk Dr Soo Thian Lian and current department head Dr Fong Siew Moy, as well as Allergy and Immunology Research Centre (AIRC) head and pathologist at the IMR, Dr Masita Arip.

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