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1. Why o Why?

If you are visiting these writings for the first time, or have not read the entry "Why o Why",

may I suggest you read that first and then read the rest in numerical order?

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

5.2 Reflections on Stem Cell Donor Registration Drive, March 14-18, 2017, at IIT Bombay

It has been almost three days since the 2017 edition of the IITB-MDRI Stem Cell donor registration drive came to an end, after six days of frenetic activity. The first three days saw many of my students and their friends and sympathizers fan out into the Hostels and spread the need for coming to the meeting with the Doctors and subsequently the actual event when one registers to become a stem cell  donor.

The session with the students at their hostels went something like this.

We would go to a hostel during their dinner period - when at each dinner table we will find several students sitting with their friends and eating.

“Can I talk to you guys about an important matter? It will take only a few minutes.”

In years past, students would respond by studying you and then vaguely look at you with most mumbling a “yes”.

This year the dominant reaction was a half-hearted nod (while they continued to look at their cellphones waiting for that all important message) which could be a “ yes” or a “no” but I almost always took it as a “yes” and would pull a chair and sit down.
  • Have you heard of Stem Cell Transplant?
  • Do you know that it is the only way some of the blood diseases can be treated ?       
  • Do you know that according to some predictions, everyone of us - in about 10 years - will know someone, either a friend or a relative, who has been diagnosed with leukaemia?                                  
  • Do you know that in the U.S someone needing a transplant has the luxury of choosing from more than a dozen possible donors?
And there were other possibilities of keeping them engaged through questions than this.
Our intention was to make them realize that this problem was not a lifestyle disease but something one may be afflicted by just because we all have to breathe or eat.

More often than not, we felt we were successful in making our points and that they will, even if they don’t show up at the “meet-the-doctor” event, come to the registration desk on the following few days and sign up.

Sometimes we faced two remarkably hostile types of people. The first was what I would call as the purely uninformed or don't want to be informed, “head-in-the-sand” type of non-believers. For them instant gratification in life was sufficient, the future is for someone else to worry about.

The second was the “I know everything, I am a researcher in this area and everything you know and do is wrong” kind.

We found both to be worth avoiding -- They had a snow balling effect on others. In the first case because people around them did not want to break away from this naysayer's camp and in the second case because the person claims to be knowledgeable. Given the short time we had given ourselves to collect as many supporters for our cause as possible we did not want to entertain such distractions, and so, moved on to the next table, trying to remove that bad taste in our mouths.
This year’s drive was quite a bit disappointing.  Three years ago, we had signed up more than 200+ potential donors. This doubled in each of the two subsequent years. So we were all hoping for another doubling. But, we were able to enthuse only 250 or so donors to sign up. We are  still analyzing why such a low turnout was witnessed this time around.    My first reaction was utter disappointment that lead to the following letter  being  sent to the editors of IITB's INSIGHT magazine for students:

Dear ​F​riends:
Why this apathy from the best young minds of India?
How many times have you complained about "the system" not taking care of those "in need"?
But, when given a chance to doing something about it,  how many times have you responded?
Think about it.
​​​T​oday was the final day for ​blood sample collection/Stem cell Donor Registration​.
It was the culmination of 6 days of campaigning -- all to mobilize support for and participation in  the bone marrow registry -- so that you and your near and dear ones will find the all important matching stem cell donor, should the unfortunate need arise due to blood cancer, etc.
All of us involved in this drive have been quite disappointed by the very low turn-out from the students of IITB.
What would it take to awaken you?
-- Krithi Ramamritham (CSE) and the MDRI-IITB team
No response came from those I wrote to.
Nevertheless, consoling myself that 250 is not a shabby number, I sent the following sincere thank you note to the students and faculty:

Dear friends:
We would like to thank the nearly 250 students/staff/faculty who took the time to register last weekend in the IITB-MDRI stem cell donor registration drive.
Hope some day your generosity will help save the life of someone who needs stem cell transplant.
Our thanks to Prof Soumyo Mukerjee for motivating the students to participate in the drive.
Thanks to the many volunteers whose help made the drive possible.
Best wishes