Only about 1.2 million of the world's roughly 400 million ethnic Arabs live in Israel, yet the sole registry for Arab bone marrow donors is located in Jerusalem's Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center. Bone marrow transplanted from a genetically matching donor may be effective against blood cancers and a variety of genetic diseases.
Arab registry director Amal Bishara, an Arab woman with a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Hadassah, has traveled to 60 Arab communities since the registry was created in 2008 as an offshoot of the hospital's 22-year-old Jewish registry. Through lectures, publicity campaigns, newspaper articles and social media, Bishara has brought in 9,000 registrants resulting in six donations.
But before she can collect samples - often with the help of her family or a cadre of retired Arab nurses - she must sell the concept of unrelated, anonymous donors. Since Arabs frequently marry relatives, at least 60 percent of patients find matches within their own extended families (on the flip side, about 90 percent of Arab requests for bone marrow transplants are for children with genetic diseases resulting from consanguineous marriages). Hadassah previously had little success in recruiting Arab registrants. Thanks to Bishara, attitudes are changing.
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