New direction

The registry reported high growth in 2020. A new upper age limit of 40 for registration as a blood stem cell donor has been in effect since 1 April 2020.

At the end of 2020, the Swiss registry listed 162’164 persons, a 13.5 per cent increase over 2019 (142’900 persons). A total of 20’701 people registered as new blood stem cell donors, a substantial increase compared to 2019 (14’745 new registrations). Two public appeals from patients met with a big response, leading to numerous registrations. In total, 1437 persons were removed from the registry (2019: 1325), primarily due to age.

Focus on online registration

Swiss Transfusion SRC has been encouraging online registration for several years. This is an efficient option that can be used at any time, from anywhere, by someone with a personal digital device. It is a natural fit with people in the younger generation, who are much in demand as donors. Most people who use the online form to register look into blood stem cell donation in depth before they do so. After registering online, they receive a test kit in the mail that they can use to collect a sample for tissue typing.

In 2020, online registration took on even greater importance, since measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 made local registration drives virtually impossible in Switzerland. Thanks to online registration, Swiss Transfusion SRC could nonetheless carry out digital campaigns and support public appeals launched by patients. In 2020, 82 per cent of those who registered as new donors did so using the online form (2019: 77%).

Wanted: young donors

Swiss Transfusion SRC has lowered the upper age limit for registration to 40 years with effect from 1 April 2020. The aim is to align the registry as closely as possible to the needs of patients. Doctors prefer transplant material donated by younger individuals these days due to medical considerations (see chart). Every second person (49.4%) who registered in 2020 was under the age of 30 (2019: 53%).

Swiss Transfusion SRC is also striving to bring the ratio of men to women into balance, in part due to the specific antibodies that are formed in women’s blood after childbirth. Blood stem cells donated by women can trigger adverse reactions in patients, whose immune systems are very weak. The percentages of men and women in the registry remained unchanged in 2020 at 35 and 65 per cent, respectively. The percentage of men among newly registering donors was also 35 per cent (2019: 33%).





Blood Stem Cell Donation - Helping is easier than reading this.

League for Hope – for blood stem cell donation

The realignment of the recruitment strategy, including the lowering of the age limit, provided an occasion to redesign the marketing concept for blood stem cell donation – with the specific aims of recruiting donors from a younger target group and getting a broad segment of the population involved in the cause of blood stem cell donation.

The core of the new concept is the League for Hope movement, which was launched in the spring of 2020. Its symbol is a heart. Everyone who in any way supports the cause of blood stem cell donation belongs to the League for Hope. Another development in the spring of 2020 was the launch of the new Internet presence, including a stand-alone website devoted to blood stem cell donation. This site was created in the context of an extensive revision and restructuring of the Swiss Transfusion SRC website.

Swiss Transfusion SRC also ran its first poster campaign designed to raise awareness about stem cell donation in German- and French-speaking Switzerland in 2020.

Targeting young men

Swiss Transfusion SRC regularly posts content about blood stem cell donation on Facebook and Instagram, its social media channels. At the end of 2020, it had 9900 subscribers on Facebook (2019: 9000) and 3400 on Instagram (2019: 2095). These are people who feel a strong attachment to the cause of blood stem cell donation.

A number of online campaigns in 2020 were directed at one specific group of people: young men. Under the slogan “Meet the League”, successful young men promoted the cause of blood stem cell donation, using social media to motivate their fan groups to register as well. During the summer months, these campaigns were supported by ads screened in Swiss open-air cinemas and a variety of recommendation postcards.

Digital worldwide

The World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) held its annual World Marrow Donor Day event in a digital format on 19 September 2020, since the Covid-19 pandemic had rendered other types of registration events and street campaigns impossible. Swiss Transfusion SRC provided digital material to active supporters for further distribution. These included a video in which four former patients express their thanks to blood stem cell donors.

Saying yes to a donation

Sometimes, a search through the world’s registries identifies only one individual in the entire world who could potentially serve as a donor. Thus, the willingness of this one person to go through with the donation is of vital importance to a patient. The “availability” indicator represents the percentage of registered donors who are able and willing to donate when a request for confirmatory typing arrives. The World Marrow Donor Association has set the benchmark of 80 per cent for this indicator.

At 57.1 per cent, overall availability was down again in Switzerland in 2020 (2019: 62.9%) and failed to meet the benchmark. A person can be unavailable for medical or personal reasons, and this unavailability can be temporary or permanent. In 2020, medical reasons predominated (see chart). Swiss Transfusion SRC set up a working group in 2020 to analyse the causal factors at work. Its findings, due out in 2021, should facilitate the development of measures aimed at raising availability. These will include regular, personal digital communication with people who are registered.

10-year follow-up programme

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 systematic follow-up activities enable Swiss Transfusion SRC to acquire evidence-based information that may be of benefit to future donors. The follow-up procedure lasts for 10 years. If, as is not unusual, an individual donates blood stem cells a second time during this period, the cycle starts anew.

In the spring of 2020, Swiss Transfusion SRC also took over responsibility from one of the collection centres at a hospital for performing the post-donation checks that take place one month after a procedure. This eased the centre’s workload, and the donors were able to respond to the questions from their homes by phone. The medical check-ups were postponed and performed later.

The response rate among persons contacted in 2020 was 83 per cent (see chart, reference date 2.2.2021). In some cases, it proved difficult to get in touch with related donors living outside of Switzerland.

Return rate, per cent

Number of questionnaires mailed (related and unrelated)

Number of questionnaires received (related and unrelated)

Authorisation for hybrid banking

On 1 July 2020, the Federal Office of Public Health granted authorisation for allogeneic cord blood units for transplantation to an unrelated recipient to be stored at a private cord blood bank. By doing so, it established the legal basis for the world’s first hybrid banking programme. Hybrid banking means when cord blood is preserved in a private bank while also being made available to the public donor registries. Swiss Transfusion SRC, which defined the conditions that must be met in order for cord blood units to be included in the Swiss registry, will lead the project through the end of its pilot phase.

The public cord blood banks in Basel and Geneva held 5077 units of cord blood at the end of 2020, compared to 4911 in 2019. Four units were supplied by the banks in 2020.