The death of a 6-year-old girl in his neighborhood from leukemia inspired Xiao Peng, a student at Guizhou Herbal Medical Institution, to call the Jinyang Information Daily hotline to find out how he could become one of the some 60,000 marrow donors listed in China’s marrow bank who have donated blood to try to help others suffering from the deadly disease.
An estimated 4 million people are suffering from leukemia in China, with some 4,000 added victims every year. For most, the only hope is a marrow transplant.
Xiao Peng may also have been inspired by a series of appeals for marrow donors early this year by the Red Cross Association of Guizhou Province where hospitals are accepting an average of some 40-50 new leukemia patients a year, and donors are desperately needed.
And yet in the end, Xiao Peng did not donate.
This potential donor learned through his inquiries that Guizhou does not have a marrow bank and that if he – and the two other students he had convinced to volunteer marrow – wanted to donate they would have to go to branches in nearby provinces like Guangxi, Yunnan, and Sichuan.
Why doesn’t Guizhou have a marrow bank? It’s not because medical institutions are not performing the procedure: Both the hospital affiliated with Guiyang Medical Institution and Zunyi Medical Institution have successful records of marrow transplants.
The problem is not enough money and not enough equipment, according to the secretary of the Red Cross Association of Guizhou Province who said a marrow bank requires large amounts of capital to maintain, aside from the expenditures required for importing advanced lab equipment and professional techniques.
The Red Cross Association of Guizhou Province until last year was a branch organization under the Health Bureau of Guizhou Province, dependent mostly on local charity. However, last December, the Provincial Structuring and Staffing Commission made the Red Cross an independent association. This is a good news that enhances the possibility of constructing a Guizhou provincial marrow bank in the future, according to a Guizhou Red Cross official who considers a marrow bank essential.
At the hospital affiliated with the Guiyang Medical Institution, a leukemia patient recently went through a marrow transplant using his brother’s stem cells. The matching rate among siblings is one-fourth, which is not a high rate after all. However, the matching rate for non-siblings is between one four hundredth and one ten thousandth, and for those rare blood types, the rate is one out of several ten thousand or several hundred thousand.
But with the one-child policy under China’s Family Planning, marrow transplants will depend increasingly on finding a matching partner from volunteers who are not siblings. If a local hospital cannot find a matching type that is compatible with a patient, then the hospital will have to ask for help from the China Marrow Bank or the Taiwan Marrow Bank. The more volunteers, the more opportunities for leukemia patients, and the more lives that will be saved.
The China Marrow Bank is always calling for more donors to help leukemia patients. Although 60,000 are listed in the China’s marrow bank, this compares to 4 million donors in marrow banks in the United States and 20,000 donors in Taiwan which has a population of only 20 million.
Another problem in getting volunteers is the worry some people have about the health effects in the donation process. But today’s marrow transplant is actually the transplant of blood stem cells. Instead of drawing marrow, the doctor takes blood from a vein in the donor’s arm, and then distills the stem cells through a blood-cell separator. The process involves only slight discomfort for the donors. After volunteers register for donation, five milliliters of blood is drawn for analysis. The record is kept for future use in the case of a compatibility, at which time the marrow bank informs the donor and further preparations are made.
(贵州信息港 [Guizhou Information Network], December 11, 2001, translated for china.org.cn by Feng Shu)