Cryo- Save: Media Release
Approved: 7 September 2015
Increasing education and expertise around stem cell storage will do much towards treating curable childhood diseases
With as much as 96% of cord blood discarded as medical waste in the South African private healthcare sector alone, Louis Rehrl, Managing Director at Cryo-Save South Africa believes we are squandering a valuable opportunity to save lives.
“Doctors in many US states are by law compelled to inform pregnant parents of the potential to store umbilical cord stem cells. This is not the case in South Africa yet,” he comments.
With countless South Africans, many of which are children and teenagers, diagnosed with leukaemia every year, Rehrl says treatment options ultimately comes down to receiving a matching bone marrow/ stem cell transplant.
“Common childhood diseases such as leukaemia and sickle cell anaemia, where the stem cells produce faulty blood cells, are curable via a stem cell transplant, of which cord blood is a widely available source. In fact, over half the paediatric transplants in the USA are sourced from umbilical cord stem cells, derived from public banks,” he says.
In South Africa leukaemia comprises 25.4% of all cancers in children, which is similar to rates in other countries, however Rehrl says treatment via stem cells from cord blood is limited to that stored in private stem cell facilities such as that of Cryo-Save.
And in addition to increasing the access to stem cell facilities locally, Rehrl says there is also a severe shortage of the necessary expertise. South Africa currently only has seventeen clinical haematologists.
“With a population size of around 50 million, of the 2000 transplants required per year, South Africa is only doing approximately 10%. Countries with a similar population size and similar transplant requirements are meeting 90% of its transplant requirements”, he explains.
With industry data indicating that there are around 100 000 births per annum in private sector, Rehrl believes there is huge potential to close the gap in awareness around the benefits of cord blood and stem cell storage.
“Of the approximately 8 000 births per month in the private sector, we estimate we are educating around 20% people per month at best. This means there is still huge potential to address the high rates in childhood leukaemia via spreading awareness around umbilical cord stem cell storage,” he concludes.