BENGALURU: The absence of government-run bone marrow transplant centres and a donor registry makes thalassemia treatment next to impossible in Sri Lanka. To solve this problem, Bengaluru-based Dr Sunil Bhat will be working with a team of Lankans to set up a registry and transplant centres in the country.
Sri Lanka faces several challenges while dealing with complex cases, especially those who don’t have any family matched donors for transplant.“It is impossible to get a donor in Sri Lanka to be honest,” exasperates the father of a five-year-old boy who received a bone marrow transplant in the city.
Requesting anonymity, the Sri Lankan confesses that it took him a year of search to find a donor. “I looked all over the world, including in US and Europe. At one point, I even finalised a donor in Taiwan,” he says. The Taiwanese backed out later, he adds. “She (the donor) wasn’t willing”.
The doctor advised him to avoid donors in US and Europe. “They asked me to look for donors who will be similar to Lankans in terms of ethnicity,” he says. Another parent Jayantha Balasoorya says, “There are two private transplant centres in Lanka. None by the government run”. The 35-year-old adds that the absence of a donor registry makes the treatment even more difficult.
Dr Sunil, senior consultant and head of paediatric haematology, oncology and bone marrow transplant at Narayana Health City will be working with Sri Lanka Thalasemia Circle to set up the infrastructure needed for bone marrow transplants. The circle has 5,000 members. “We met Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Rajitha Senaratne in December, 2016. He has agreed to our plans,” says Jayantha Balasoorya.
Four Sri Lankan children suffering from thalassemia major, a life-threatening disorder were recently treated through unrelated donor bone marrow transplant at Narayana Health City.
The doctors sourced matching bone marrow cells from unrelated donors from across the world and carried out the transplants at Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at the Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre, Narayana Health City. Patients included, 15-month-old Nethumi Shenaya Rajapaksha Bomaluwe, four-year-old Suwini Umeda Shreemali Balasooriya, five-year-old Purna and 10-year-old Mithun Dilesh Welgamage. “If Lankans have their own donor registry, then it makes things easier medically too. A donor from their own ethnicity would anyday be a better match,” says Dr Sunil, who visited the country six months ago. Around 30 Sri Lankan patients have approached the hospital for a transplant so far, he adds.
The doctor informs he has treated transplant patients from around 30 countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nepal and Bhutan. Along with ethnic resemblence, India also proves to be a cheaper destination for patients from these countries. “A transplant surgery in Bengaluru will cost them less than 10 per cent of what it would in US or Europe,” says Dr Sunil. “Other than that, where would they find a playful and fun doctor like me,” laughs the doctor.
Treatment for Thalassemia
The common treatment for thalassemia major is blood transfusion. However, the continuous transfusions can cause complications like iron overload and blood- borne infections. Bone marrow transplant is the curative option.