International registries continue to grow

The international registries grew further, even in the second year since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of people registered as donors worldwide has nearly doubled in the past ten years. Quality has increased as well: the average age of registered persons is younger, and the tissue typing data available for them is better (96% ABDR typed vs. 88% in 2011), meaning more of their tissue markers and other markers (CMV, KIR, HLA-E) have been determined.

Country-specific differences also became apparent in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, though. Country registries whose registration processes had not yet been digitalised were unable to recruit during certain periods because lockdown rules prevented sample collection at public events. Covid-19 also caused some interruptions in the international transport processes in 2021, processes used to carry vitally needed blood stem cells from donors to patients in time. This was due to testing requirements, vaccine requirements for cross-border travel, the complete or partial air travel restrictions, quarantine regulations or rules requiring couriers responsible for transporting transplant material to obtain special authorisations.

Number of persons registered as blood stem cell donors worldwide doubled in ten years

At the end of 2020*, nearly 40 million people were registered worldwide; about 1.5 million more than had been a year earlier (2019: 38.4 million). This amounts to a doubling of the number of persons registered over a period of ten years, which rose from 19 million in 2010 to over 39 million in 2020. However, fewer people joined a registry in 2020 than had in 2019, the first decrease in the pace of growth since 2013. This was caused by the curtailment of recruitment activity in some countries in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of blood stem cell donations worldwide also fell for the first time ever, again, due to the pandemic. Blood stem cells were collected for transplantation to an unrelated recipient 19,623 times in 2020 (2019: 20,330) and 2,750 units of cord blood stem cells were sent out. Around 86 per cent (16,836) of the collection procedures were performed to collect peripheral blood stem cells. The other 2,787 were bone marrow collections, representing an almost 30 per cent drop from the previous year.

*WMDA Global Trends Report 2020. Due to the complexity of data collection and evaluation, the most recent figures available are those for 2020.

Global give and take

It is thanks to the global network of registries that patients have a good chance of finding a suitable donor. This applies to Switzerland as well. Of the 158 procedures performed in Switzerland in 2021 to transplant blood stem cells from an unrelated donor, in only three did the donated cells originate in Switzerland; a figure considerably below that for 2020 (11).

The material transplanted in procedures performed in Switzerland originated in a total of 16 countries, with Germany providing the most (85), followed by the USA (25) and Poland (16). These are countries that have a large number of donors in their registries.

The 65 blood stem cell donations and 7 cord blood donations originating in Switzerland went to Germany (14), France (10), the USA (9) and to 15 other countries (including Switzerland).


Origin of products for Swiss patients 2021

Destination of Swiss products 2021

WMDA: strained financial situation

It was possible to cover the majority of the costs for the modernisation and further development of the global database of the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) with EU funding. This funding is now exhausted, meaning that the WMDA will have to draw from its reserves to finance the completion of the work.

In 2022, the Swiss registry, which is responsible for financial affairs within the WMDA board, will seek to arrive at a solution securing sustained financing for the global organisation for the coming years.