Qualitative growth

The registry reported steady growth in 2021, though at a somewhat slower pace compared to 2020. Nonetheless, the high percentage of online registrations and the marketing activities focussing on young donors did result in an overall increase in the number of persons registered.

At the end of 2021, the Swiss registry listed 171,709 persons, a 5.9 per cent increase over 2020 (162,164 persons). A total of 12,188 people registered themselves as blood stem cell donors. Growth was lower than that for 2020 (20,701 new registrations) but at a stable level. An appeal from a patient on social media led to one significant spike in registrations. The number of persons removed from the registry was 2,643 (20: 1,437). The explanation for the increase lies in the fact that, in addition to regular withdrawals from the registry of donors who have turned 60, the figure reflects the more frequent mailings associated with the switch to digital communication channels. This made it easier for registered persons to react and reconsider their decision to commit to blood stem cell donation. Thus, the registry’s slower quantitative growth was accompanied by an increase in quality, as the withdrawals were initiated by people who would otherwise have declined when a concrete donation request came in.

The percentage of registrations carried out online rose again in 2021. In fact, 96.8 per cent of those joining the registry in 2021 did so using the online form (2020: 82%). That there were no public events at which samples or tissue typing were collected in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic is certainly one reason for this.


More men and younger people in the registry

Swiss Transfusion SRC seeks to attain a balanced ratio of men to women in the registry. Back in 2019, 35 per cent of all registered donors were men; by the end of 2021, this percentage had increased to 36 per cent (see chart). The percentage of men among newly registering donors reached 41 per cent – up 6 per cent from 2020. The marketing activities introduced continue to be important, as 65% of all Swiss donors in 2021 were male.

It goes without saying that women also continue to be welcome and desired as donors. However, there are specific antibodies formed in women’s blood as a result of pregnancies and childbirth that, while completely harmless for the women themselves, can trigger adverse reactions in patients.

Doctors prefer to use transplant material from younger persons for medical reasons. In order to target younger people even more effectively and motivate them to register, Swiss Transfusion SRC analysed and optimised its existing «League for Hope» website. The website focuses on people – patients and donors – and their stories. The emphasis of its content is on the problem «patients need a donation» and the solution «you can be the donor».

This helped raise the percentage of newly registering donors under the age of 30 to 62.5 per cent (2020: 49.4%). Registration is open to people from the time they turn 17 until their 40th birthday. When people turn 60, they are no longer eligible for stem cell donation and are withdrawn from the registry.





«St. Gallen against Leukaemia» at the HSG

The first registration drive held after a pandemic-induced hiatus was in mid-December. A group of University of St. Gallen (HSG) students succeeded in motivating 80 young people to register as potential blood stem cell donors at an on-campus event.

Running for a good cause

Due to the pandemic, the individual chapters of the association Marrow were unable to hold sponsored runs to benefit the blood stem cell registry in 2020. In 2021, however, the chapters joined forces to organise a Swiss-wide virtual Leukemia Charity Run, which took place in May. A combined total of 35,000 kilometres were run by 5,388 running enthusiasts. Thanks to additional company sponsors, the event raised CHF 80,000 to support the growth of the registry.

Swiss Transfusion SRC acted as the Charity Partner at the Grand Prix Bern in October 2021. All 15,000 runners had the opportunity to contribute towards the growth of the registry or sign up for the benefactor programme.

Family at the focus on 7th annual World Marrow Donor Day

When someone receives a leukaemia diagnosis, their life turns upside down from one moment to the next. It is easy to forget that such a diagnosis is also a huge shock for the patient’s family members, who can often feel lost as a result. For the 7th annual World Marrow Donor Day, 18 September, the focus was on them for a change. In a moving video, people from Switzerland talk about their experiences with the illness of a loved one and about the role that a blood stem cell donor played in their lives, a person they have never met whose heroism they will never forget.

Maintaining the registry: the shift from print to online communication

The digital dialogue with persons who have registered as blood stem cell donors was launched in 2021. It replaces the (printed) magazine «Together». More than 58 per cent of all of those contacted responded to a request to verify their contact information using a personalised QR code.

In the future, newly registering donors will be guided by e-mail messages and, once registered, they will regularly receive newsletters on blood stem cell donation topics. The aim is to strengthen donor commitment. Every e-mail message reinforces the awareness of blood stem cell donation and its importance. The feeling of belonging to a community is also reinforced.

Another measure of this kind was the production of two explanatory videos giving a detailed picture of what happens when someone in the registry is contacted about a concrete request for a blood stem cell donation. The aim is to eliminate any uncertainty and convey a clear idea of what a potential donor can expect to happen in the days after a request comes in.

These measures are intended to help make it easier to get in touch with potential donors and to increase availability. The latter metric, availability, is decreasing in Switzerland. In 2021, it was 52.9 per cent (2020: 57.1%). This means that almost half (47.1%) of the registered donors contacted in 2021 were unavailable to donate for either medical (24.7%) or personal (22.4%) reasons (see chart).

Follow-up goes digital

On the basis of a mandate from the Federal Office of Public Health, Swiss Transfusion SRC is responsible for the follow-up programme for all related and unrelated donors in Switzerland. The purpose of the follow-up procedure, which lasts for 10 years, is to ensure the safety of people who have donated blood stem cells. It also yields detailed information that can be used to increase the safety of future donors.

Up to now, the information collected in follow-up checks has been recorded on questionnaires sent out as paper forms or by e-mail. A new digital application will allow responses to be collected through online forms in the future. This will make it easier to contact donors, including related donors, who live abroad.

The new application will also simplify processes and the evaluation of the information collected and reduce the administrative burden relating to data management.

The response rate among persons contacted in 2021 was 82 per cent (see chart, reference date 27 January 2022).

Return rate, per cent

Number of questionnaires mailed (related and unrelated)

Number of questionnaires received (related and unrelated)