Donation for a cause

Last Thursday, I finally remembered to call up the Singapore Cord Blood Bank to offer donation of baby Alex’s cord blood. The staff on the other line sounded really grateful, and offered to go through a questionnaire over the phone quickly with me, mostly medical history, which she also apologized for being intrusive. To be honest, I don’t find the questions to be so. I can understand why they have to be asked, since we’re talking about donation of cord blood for treatment of serious illnesses like Leukemia. You definitely wanna take great precaution.

The Cord Blood Bank is a public bank where donors are not charged any fee. It was set up in 2005 and since has had 102 transplants, both locally and internationally. This compares with CordLife of Singapore (private bank) which was set up in 2001 and so far arranged for 5 units to be used. There’s another private bank in Singapore called StemCord which was set up in 2002 and claimed to have more 25,000 stored core blood, but no mention of any being used for transplant in its website. I also checked out this private bank from Malaysia, StemLife International, which was set up in 2001, and claimed they’ve released more units for therapy than any other cord blood banks in Southeast Asia, and yet doesn’t provide any number to back its statement. So I’m taking their claim with a big dollop of salt.

Anyway my husband and I met up with the Cord Blood Bank staff last Friday to continue with the questionnaire and sign the documents of consent. We were told that there’re more than 8,000 units of cord blood stored so far, and even though this is far lesser than the more than 35,000 stored units at Cordlife, you realize that Cord Blood Bank does far more transplants. The reason being that the odds of using one’s own cord blood is 0.01% and that of a sibling’s is only 25% (so there’s a pretty high chance the cord blood can’t be used for siblings as well). So when you think about it, there’s seriously no point in paying so much money to private cord blood banks. Instead there’re far more advantages to donating the cord blood to a public bank which can benefit everybody. Imagine if you realize that the child can’t use his/her own cord blood or of the sibling’s, the public cord blood bank is the only way to go to look for a transplant match since all those units in the private banks are owned by individual families. And the public bank will also have access to international network of donated cord blood unlike private banks.

We were told by the staff that the public bank depends on donations for its operations, and so it has to charge patient a recovery fee for a cord blood transplant. For local cord blood, it’s S$26,000, and for overseas unit, it’s around US$36,000. Yes, it seems exorbitant but that is because the public bank doesn’t charge donors for storage, and it provides a much bigger pool of cord blood to find a transplant match. My husband thinks the public bank can charge a nominal fee like some sort of insurance to the donors, which can be accumulated into a fund for the recovery fee, which means patients don’t have to pay the exorbitant recovery fee on an individual basis. The staff also told us that currently the public bank is supported by SingHealth, a government organization linked to the Ministry of Health, which we think is probably minimal since the non-profit organization also has to rely on donation. She further added that they hope they can continue to get support from SingHealth. I guess the reason why many expectant parents are not aware of this public bank is because of little publicity, probably due to limited funds available. Like we didn’t know about it until a couple of months ago, but I certainly have heard of the private banks especially CordLife.

We think it would be a great shame if the government doesn’t continue to fund the public bank. What we disagree with is also the fact that the government allows parents to use fund from the Child Development Account (CDA) to pay for the storage of cord blood in private banks. (For those not in the know, CDA is a special saving account set up for a new born Singaporean child, where the government will match dollar to dollar, up to a cap of S$6,000, for the 1st and 2nd child.) That was what my friend, Cassia, did for her daughter, using the fund to pay for storage fee with CordLife. That money could have better used on fees for approved education institutions for the child such as childcare center, or medical insurance, or medical-related expenses like treatment fees etc. Yet a significant number of parents don’t even bother to do research to find out more about cord blood banking and instead jump into the bandwagon like lemmings. I seriously urge all expectant parents to learn about this issue and ask yourself if it makes sense to store privately, or would it be more useful to donate to the public bank.

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