National | Regional Voices: Hiroshima

Hiroshima bone marrow donors dwindling with age amid lack of registration volunteers and education

Chugoku Shimbun

Following renowned swimmer Rikako Ikee’s announcement of her leukemia diagnosis, public interest in donating bone marrow has increased, especially in Hiroshima Prefecture, which has more than its fair share of patients as a result of the atomic bombing in 1945.

In Hiroshima, though, the eligible donors are getting older, forcing officials to hammer out plans to find new donors.

Bone marrow provides blood-forming cells for individuals with such diseases as leukemia. In the prefecture, a little over 60 percent of all donors are in their 40s or 50s, with the ratio of those in their 20s or 30s below the national average.

The age limit is 55, so when a donor reaches that age, his or her data are automatically deleted.

As of the end of February, there were 8,873 registered bone marrow donors in Hiroshima. Nearly half (47.9 percent) are in their 40s, and the ratio combined with those in their 50s is 63.3 percent — surpassing Japan’s average of 56.6 percent.

Donors in their 30s constitute 23.3 percent of the total, and donors in their 20s amount to 12.6 percent. Those ratios are 4 points and 2.5 points, respectively, below the national average.

In Hiroshima, there are only 7.3 registered donors per 1,000 people between the ages 25 and 54, which is also below the national average of 8.9.

Kazushi Noda, director of Hiroshima Donor Bank, in Minami Ward, said donor registrations are sluggish because there are only 10 volunteers who can help with the procedures and only three fixed donation stations where people can register in the prefecture.

Some said that awareness of bone marrow donation must be spread through education.

“It’s not that young people are not interested in learning about leukemia. They just don’t have many opportunities to learn about it,” said Noriko Hirohata, a 69-year-old public relations official at a local branch of the Japan Marrow Donor Program. “They’d feel more comfortable with registering as donors had they learned about it through high school and college and experienced donating blood first.”

Ikee announced her leukemia diagnosis in February. After that, 374 people in Hiroshima Prefecture signed up to become donors the same month. The total in fiscal 2018 was expected to be about 1,100, nearly double the total from the year before. An age-based breakdown of the donors has not been disclosed, but one official who wished to remain anonymous said many were in their 20s.

“I want to launch a seminar encouraging bone marrow donor registrations alongside blood drives at universities and companies,” Noda said. “I also want to hold more information sessions about donor registration throughout the prefecture. In order to do that, I hope more volunteers join.”

The prefecture plans to host marrow-donation workshops to increase the number this fiscal year, recognizing the lack of volunteers as a problem.

This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on April 15.

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