Population boom means a shortage of compatible blood donors at Royal Children’s Hospital
Herald Sun, 18th June 2015
Victoria’s ethnically diverse population is driving an increase in some genetic disorders. Although blood compatibility is not based on race, genetically similar blood is the best choice for patients who need repeated or large volumes of blood transfusions.
For patients like six-year-old Mapalo Nsofwa, finding a close match for her three weekly blood transfusions is vital to protecting her health.
Mapalo was seven months old when she was diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia, a genetic disorder that changes the shape of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
RCH paediatric haematologist Dr Anthea Greenway said sickle cells looked like “bent bananas”, which became stuck in blood vessels, blocking blood flow around the body.
“It’s one of the most painful conditions we know about,” Dr Greenway said.
“It’s a chronic long-term disorder that needs lots of treatment and follow-up.”
It is more common in people with African and Middle Eastern backgrounds, where the affected gene is more common.
With the RCH clinic seeing a sharp increase in affected patients in the past decade, it is establishing a national register to capture how many patients have the condition, to plan for future treatment needs.
Dr Greenway said ethnically matching blood donations to regular recipients reduced the likelihood of adverse reactions.
“There are the superficial A-B-O blood groups, but when you look at it in more detail there are layers and layers of levels of matching,” she said.
“If someone develops a reaction it’s difficult to find blood that’s a good match. Sometimes that involves an Australian-wide search to find a blood donor, something that we now have to do reasonably frequently.”