The Network - Issue 1, Spring 2011
Finding the OtherHalf
Realizing Chinese donors are under-represented on the Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide registry, one group sets out to grow the numbers-fast
By: Naomi Ishiguro, Project Manager, OtherHalf - Chinese Stem Cell Initiative (Toronto)
The Network is pleased to profile one of Canadian Blood Services' premier community partners, OtherHalf - Chinese Stem Cell Initiative. OtherHalf speaks directly to the intent of this space: to profile outstanding Canadians in their pursuits to help patients by engaging their community members to become stem cell donors. Having a more diverse stem cell network continues to be the biggest hurdle to providing better patient outcomes.
Shock and astonishment-these were the reactions of Susan Go when she first heard the dire statistics facing Chinese stem cell patients in 2008. Susan, chair of OtherHalf - Chinese Stem Cell Initiative, had learned that Chinese blood cancer patients needing a potentially life-saving stem cell transplant only have a 10 per cent chance of finding a donor match.
Chinese donors are severely under-represented in the worldwide stem cell registry. While Chinese people make up about 20 percent of the world's population, they account for only 4 percent of the donors on the Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide registry-a shocking statistic indeed. However, what makes the situation more astonishing is how easy the registration process is: one completes a registration form and takes four swab samples of their cheek cells, a process taking only about 15 minutes.
Knowing the ease and simplicity of the registration process, Go and a few friends approached OneMatch to see if they could launch a pilot project with the aim of recruiting more Chinese stem cell registrants in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Go was convinced that once people knew about the urgent need and the ease of the registration process, they would respond.
Sure enough, since OtherHalf's first stem cell drive in February 2009, the number of Chinese registrants in Canada has increased by 400 per cent. OtherHalf continues to increase the number of Chinese registrants in the stem cell registry by building awareness about stem cell donation in the Chinese community.
An annual stem cell drive has been the premier event in the OtherHalf calendar, and in 2010, this event went national when a Vancouver venue was added to the three being held in the GTA. Thanks to the commitment and efforts of OtherHalf's volunteers, four cities-Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Calgary-will participate in this year's 326 National Chinese Stem Cell Drive, so called because it is to be held on March 26, 2011.
Trained OtherHalf volunteers (blue shirts) help potential stem cell donors complete their questionnaires during an OtherHalf – Chinese Stem Cell Initiative event in Markham, Ontario.
To further their recruitment efforts, OtherHalf has begun to inform and recruit the endorsement of Chinese family physicians, which it is hoped will ease any concerns about stem cell donation among potential registrants. In addition, the organization is venturing into social media, hoping this will motivate and encourage participation from young adults. Social media has been a great tool in communicating OtherHalf's goals and news, and will be a crucial component in gathering volunteer recruits to staff 326 locations.
All of these efforts are paying off. Since 2009, six stem cell donors in Canada have been identified to be Chinese, whereas in 2008 none were. For their work and success, OtherHalf was awarded the 2010 Outstanding National Partner Award from Canadian Blood Services and OneMatch.
Despite the headway OtherHalf has made, much more work still needs to be done. Many Chinese patients are waiting desperately for stem cell donor matches. With this in mind, the team at OtherHalf continues to work to achieve its mandate. After all, as Go says, "We are just the messengers for those who cannot spread the word themselves."