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How To Become a Bone Marrow Donor

06 March 2022
You can become a bone marrow tissue donor if you’re between the ages of 16 and 45. Simply complete the online form on the SABMR website to first check whether you are eligible.
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Every year, thousands of individuals fight for their lives as leukaemia, blood diseases, and immune disorders take hold. While there are several treatment options available, for many patients a bone marrow transplant becomes the only and final option for living a long and healthy life. But the process of finding a viable donor is complex, as with the donor’s bone marrow tissue needing to be an exact match. This means that, on average, a bone marrow recipient has only a 1 in 100 000 chance of finding a match. Despite almost 40 million registered bone marrow donors worldwide, many patients never find a match and don’t survive. It is therefore vital that you register to become a donor and give the gift of life.

Founded in 1991, the SA Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) has been working tirelessly to save lives. An accredited member of the World Marrow Donor Association, SABMR aims to make bone marrow transplants more accessible for all patients.


You can become a bone marrow tissue donor if you’re between the ages of 16 and 45. Simply complete the online form on the SABMR website to first check whether you are eligible. Once your eligibility has been verified, you will then be taken through the next steps. This includes the SABMR sending you a Buccal swab (cheek swab) via courier, or setting up an appointment, at no cost to you.


For more info on how to become a donor, what the process entails, and the process of finding a potential match, you can visit the SABMR’s comprehensive FAQ section.



According to the SABMR, if any one of the following applies to you, unfortunately you will be unable to join the registry:

  • You are under 16 or over 45 years of age
  • You do not live in South Africa or will be in the country for less than two years
  • You weigh under 50kg or are significantly overweight (with a BMI >40)
  • You (or your partner) are, or think that you might be, HIV or HTLV positive
  • You (or your partner) are, or think that you might be, positive for the hepatitis B or C viruses
  • You engage in behaviour which places you at risk for sexually transmissible infections
  • You have ever been injected (even once) with non-prescription drugs, including bodybuilding drugs - or you have a chemical dependency
  • You are on prescribed medication that, if necessary, cannot be stopped should you be a match for a patient. Please confirm with your doctor before registering.
  • You have an inherited blood disorder e.g. Fanconi anaemia, Sickle Cell disease or
  • Thalassaemia, including being a carrier for any of these conditions
  • You have a bleeding disorder e.g. Factor V Leiden mutation, Haemophilia, Protein S deficiency, Prothrombin gene mutation, thrombocytopenia, thrombocytosis, Von Willebrand disease - or are a carrier for any of these conditions
  • You have eczema
  • You have severe asthma e.g. more than 2 attacks in the last year and are on oral medication
  • You have more than 2 migraine attacks / month
  • You are a para- or quadriplegic
  • You have had a splenectomy
  • You are a transplant recipient
  • You have tuberculosis (TB) and are undergoing treatment
  • You are taking more than 2 anti-depressant / anti-anxiety medications
  • You have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and are on lithium treatment.
  • You are on steroid or blood-thinning medication
  • You have had a tattoo in the last 4 months
  • You have, or have ever had, any of the following:
    • An allergy to latex, anaesthesia, paracetamol
    • Any auto-immune condition including Alopecia areata, Ankylosing spondylitis, Coeliac disease, Cold Agglutinin disease, Graves’ disease, Goodpasture’s syndrome,
    • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Myasthenia gravis, Pernicious anaemia, Psoriasis, Raynaud’s
    • disease, Reiter’s syndrome, Rheumatoid arthritis, Sarcoidosis, Scleroderma, Sjögren’s
    • syndrome, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease,
    • Uveitis, Vasculitis, Vitiligo
    • Bi-polar disease
    • Brain surgery
    • Cancer
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
    • Diabetes – unless controlled by diet alone
    • Epilepsy
    • A haematological (blood) disorder
    • Heart disease or heart surgery
    • Kidney disease – or have had a kidney removed
    • Meniere’s disease
    • A neurological condition e.g. Fibromyalgia, Guillain-Barré syndrome, Multiple sclerosis,
    • Muscular dystrophy
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Schizophrenia
    • Sciatica
    • Stroke or Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIAs)
  • You are pregnant or are on fertility treatment
  • You have a first degree relative with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) or myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)
  • You have ANY OTHER condition that excludes you from being a blood donor or, if for ANY reason, you are not eligible to donate blood.

Sources: SABMR