“Thank you for choosing to become a donor for being so selfless and – above all – thank you for saving my life.” These are the words of SA high school pupil, Zyaan Makda, sufferer of rare blood disorder, thalassemia, to Polish stem cell donor, Marta Drożdż, when they met virtually for the first time
CAPE TOWN, July 2021 – While blood cancer is not top of mind when it comes to fatal cancers, it is one of the top five cancers affecting people globally. This is according to Dr Estelle Verburgh, clinical haematologist and associate professor in Clinical Haematology at the University of Cape Town, who adds that often the only hope for a cure is a blood stem cell transplantation.
In a bid to raise funds and awareness for those who are suffering from blood disorders and cancers, DKMS Africa (formerly known as the Sunflower Fund) will once again embark on their annual Sunflower Day campaign which will be celebrated on the 17th of September 2021. This special day is usually honoured through the sale of the Tube of Hope (TOPE) and this year is no different with topes going on sale from August 2021.
Alana James, Country Executive Director at DKMS Africa, says that hope is a fundamental need for those suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as blood disorders and cancers, and in some instances, hope is all that a patient has.
“It is for this very reason that the 2021 instalment of the Sunflower Day is dedicated to celebrating the power of hope,” she says. “At DKMS Africa, we believe that hope is the one underlying attribute that can get anyone through the darkest of times, and for many patients battling a blood-related illness, hope can come in the form of a second chance at life through blood stem cell donations.”
James adds that while the purpose of Sunflower Day is to create awareness and raise funds, it's also an important platform to create awareness and drive the conversation around stem cell transplantations and the associated misconceptions.
As the body’s primary cells, all cells such as bodily tissue, organs and bones develop from it. The stem cells which are found in the body’s bone marrow are responsible for creating the various types of blood cells, all with a unique job to do to keep our blood healthy. Registering to donate blood stem cells involves three DNA swabs collected from the inside of the mouth and cheeks, and can be done from the comfort of a potential donor’s home.
Should a candidate be a match, they will be contacted to donate. The procedure is non-invasive and painless and does not require an operation, anaesthetic or incisions. The procedure involved travelling to a collection centre to have a full medical assessment to assess the donor’s suitability to donate. Donors are then required to provide a blood sample which will be confirmed as an HLA match and screened for infectious disease markers. 30 days after the examination blood stem cells are then collected from the donor. The process is completely free and donors only donate blood stem cells twice in their lives.
“By donating blood stem cells, everyday people become the hope patients with blood disorders and cancers need to beat their illnesses, and we urge the public to drive the conversation around the importance and need for blood stem cell transplants,” says James.
With the tribulations of 2020 and this year, DKMS Africa implores South Africans to embody the idea of hope. By purchasing a TOPE for as little as R30 from Pick n Pay stores, selected ICPA pharmacies and online at Zando. The TOPE is available in six eye-catching unisex colours including blue, green, yellow, pink, red and black.
“With all proceeds assisting the DKMS Africa to recruit blood stem cell donors and contribute to the growth of the patient assistance fund, it's one way, apart from being a blood stem cell donor, that the public can be a beacon of hope for many,” concludes James.
Should you be interested in becoming a donor, between the ages of 18-55 and in general good health, register to become a stem cell donor today. For more information visit DKMS-Africa.org or to register visit or call 0800 12 10 82.