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In memory of Mechtild Harf, DKMS Supports BMJH-Sankalp Bone Marrow Transplant Unit Launched In Bengaluru to Help Children Suffering from Blood Disorders

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DKMS, an international non-profit organization dedicated to the fight against blood cancer, inaugurated the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit in memory of Mechtild Harf. The non-profit organization Sankalp India Foundation operates the new unit with the medical advice support of Cure2Children on the premises of the non-profit Bhagwan Mahaveer Jain Hospital (BMJH) in Bengaluru. This state-of-the-art facility will cater to treatment of about 120 children suffering from blood cancer or rare blood disorders such as Thalassemia or Aplastic Anemia.

Every 5 minutes, someone in India is diagnosed with blood cancer or other blood disorders. With over 42 million carriers, the country is also known as the Thalassemia capital of the world. As it is a widespread hereditary condition, more than 10,000 children are born with the severe anemia every year. Patients suffering from the disease need a regular blood transfusions. The most effective treatment is a blood stem cell transplant, ideally at an early age. The need for transplants in children is therefore extremely high while there are not enough capacities in hospitals to provide the little patients with medical treatment and necessary care.

In its mission to improve the access to transplantation for patients in need, DKMS has funded the new BMT Centre with 5.46 Cr INR (~6,30,000 EUR / 7,40,000 USD). “The only effective way to address blood cancer and other life-threatening blood diseases is with a macro perspective. 30 years after our foundation, we are therefore expanding the scope of our activities. In addition to registering as many potential blood stem cell donors as possible, we extend our support to patients whose geographic location or socio-economic status impedes the access to transplantation. Our aim is to help build a better base for treatment and to reduce the financial burden on patients in need by contributing to the transplantation costs. It is a milestone for our organization that the BMT Unit in memory of Mechtild Harf opens its doors today for children in need,” says Dr. Elke Neujahr, Global Chief Executive Officer, DKMS.

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One of the patients who received funding from DKMS within the organization’s support programme is seven-year-old Shrinidhi. Sharing her experience, Shrinidhi’s mother says: “After watching my son battle Thalassemia for all these years, I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do. But with the help of DKMS and Sankalp India Foundation, I was able to donate my blood stem cells and save my son’s life. For years we have lived in fear and uncertainty, but now we can live like a normal, happy family.”

The BMJH-Sankalp BMT unit in Memory of Mechtild Harf Supported by Cure2Children is located on a dedicated floor on the premises of the hospital. The facilities include a BMT unit with 10 beds equipped with HEPA filters ensuring a protective environment for patients. For critical patients, an Intensive Care Unit with three beds has been set up. An isolation room, a pre-transplant day care area with a play area for the children as well as a training and education facility are also part of the centre. The molecular laboratory on the same floor will enable speedy and cutting-edge genetic diagnostics, transplant genetics and pathogen detection and reduce the costs per transplant as these investigations can be carried out inhouse. The centre is also home to the central referral pathology lab for Sankalp which will cater to the needs of thalassemia care and management across the country.

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“We will be able to treat about 120 children at the centre each year. State-of-the-art infrastructure in combination with a dedicated team of highly-trained specialists and expert international visiting consultants will ensure that we can deliver the best possible clinical outcomes for our patients. This centre together with our BMT Centre in Ahmedabad will take total beds for transplantation to 14, thus enabling us to move forward with our goal of ‘Thalassemia Free India’,” says Lalith Palmar, President of the Sankalp India Foundation.

The Pediatric Hematologist-Oncologist, Bone Marrow Transplant Specialist and Medical Coordinator at the Cure2Children Foundation, Dr Lawrence Faulkner, said: “Blood stem cell transplantation is a complex procedure that requires specialised care. A highly committed multidisciplinary core team of 18 specialists will ensure the little patients’ well being. In a joint effort with Sankalp, we were able to create a set-up in which doctors can perform high-quality treatment in a cost-effective way while all global standards and infection control are met.”

“To help blood cancer patients in India and register more potential Indian donors, DKMS partnered with Bangalore Medical Service Trust (BMST) and was launched in 2019 as DKMS BMST Foundation India. The launch of the BMT unit is yet another step in our mission to raise awareness on blood cancer and provide patients with a lifesaving treatment,” adds Patrick Paul, CEO, DKMS BMST Foundation India.

Around one-third of patients find a matching blood stem cell donor within their own family. Yet, in most cases, patients cannot get access to treatment due to socio-economic and infrastructural barriers. DKMS firmly believes that the fight against blood disorders can only be won with a holistic approach. To address the challenges that thousands of families in India as well as other countries are faced with, DKMS has established several support programmes.

For more information about the DKMS support programmes for low- and middle-income countries, please visit: https://professional.dkms.org/services/support-programs/access-to-transplantation.

Mechtild Harf’s legacy:

The unit is named after Mechtild Harf, loving wife and mother of two children, who lost her battle against leukemia. On 16th September, the Harf family commemorated the 30th anniversary of her death. Peter Harf founded DKMS in 1991. Mechtild’s fate turned a small private initiative into the largest international network of blood stem cell donor centers in the world with sites in seven countries on five continents.

“Before my mother passed away, she made my father promise to continue the work we were doing. Ever since, we have worked tirelessly to fulfil our mission – to provide as many patients with blood disorders as possible with a second chance at life. As DKMS has grown and become an international organisation, we have extended our cause of registering unrelated blood stem cell donors to support patients in need – patients who would otherwise not have access to treatment. It means the world to me, that my mother’s name will be from now associated with the new Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. This is her legacy, she lives on in the work that we do,” says Katharina Harf, Vice Chairwoman of the DKMS Foundation Board.

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