House debates

Monday, 6 March 2023

Private Members' Business

Blood Stem Cell Donation

11:26 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that every 31 minutes someone in Australia is diagnosed with blood cancer, many of whom will require a lifesaving blood stem cell transplant, with:

(a) a greater success seen when utilising transplants from the bone marrow of younger donors, particularly men aged 18 to 35 years;

(b) patients more likely to find a donor match with those who share a similar ethnic background;

(c) 30 per cent of patients finding a match within their family, and 70 per cent needing to find an unrelated donor through the Australian Donor Registry; and

(d) a shortage of donors, so that 80 per cent of Australian patients will require a donation from an overseas donor;

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) blood donations are currently the main avenue for individuals to join the blood stem cell donor registry in Australia, while cheek swab testing, primarily used overseas, makes the process quicker, easier, and far less intrusive;

(b) dependency on foreign donations has halved in nations that utilise cheek swab testing, whereas Australia's dependency has increased;

(c) cheek swab testing increases the rate of domestic donations, saving countless lives in the process; and

(d) the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry's program, Strength to Give, demonstrated that cheek swab testing was a viable, cost-effective method of increasing Australia's donor pool; and

(3) calls on the Government to work with organisations, such as the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry, to remove the legislative and regulatory impediments that are currently preventing a nationwide rollout of cheek swab-based donor enrolment and to deliver awareness campaigns to assist in increasing the rate of blood stem cell donations, particularly from Australian men aged 18 to 35 years.

Deputy Speaker Freelander, as you would well know with your medical background, we are at a critical point when it comes to finding long-term solutions for Australians requiring life-saving stem cell transplants. Sadly, every 31 minutes, someone in Australia is diagnosed with a form of blood cancer. Blood cancers are usually discovered under one of three main types: leukaemia, myeloma and lymphoma, affecting blood, bone marrow and the lymphatic system.

In order to properly treat these conditions and a broad range of other blood disorders, a bone marrow transplant may be required. In essence, these blood disorders prevent the growth of healthy blood cells. Bone marrow, the soft centre of bones, where blood cells are produced, also contains stem cells. When compatible stem cells are donated, they are transplanted into the patient by infusing them into the bloodstream. A successful transplant will see the stem cells from the marrow migrate to the cavities of the larger bones and begin to produce normal blood cells for the patient.

On a global scale, Australia is a leader when it comes to the number of blood stem cell transplants performed in this country every year. Unfortunately, we currently face a significant shortage of donors within Australia. As such, we rely heavily on donations from overseas to meet this demand. Let me put this in perspective. The best form of donation is from a compatible close relative, as there are 10 unique characteristics within the stem cells that are looked at when determining a match. About 30 per cent of Australians are usually able to have a successful transplant in this manner. 70 per cent of Australians need to find an unrelated donor, and 80 per cent of these patients have their transplant are sourced from overseas. This figure is far too high.

We know that younger donors result in better outcomes for patients—in particular for those sharing similar ethnic backgrounds. Sadly, many Australians may either be unaware of or be discouraged from the processes of signing up to the donation registry, which could require a blood test. Males aged 18-35 are of particular concern, making up only four per cent of donors. This cohort is a particular focus for the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry in their Strength to Give campaign. But, with current testing methods, their options are limited. That is why cheek-swab testing can be such a viable alternative. It is a proven model in many countries across the globe, being used as the predominant form of testing. It is quick and easy for many who would be otherwise discouraged by the drawn-out process in taking a blood test and can be done as simply as taking a swab at home and mailing off the sample. Cheek-swab tests have the potential to add many more Australians to the registry, in the process saving countless lives in this country, at a relatively low cost to our health budget.

I would like to point out that the impediments are not even legislative or regulatory, as the motion has outlined, but bureaucratic and contractual. Red tape is the No. 1 issue facing the ABMDR CEO Lisa Smith and her team, and not the funding. The money is there and ready to go. Unfortunately, jurisdictional issues across state and federal governments impede the transition to cheek-swab testing in this country. We have not been able to keep up with the advances made by other nations when it comes to the technology required to roll out cheek-swab testing. This progression has been stifled by bureaucracy, with no one body responsible for determining the method of testing, and instead rules and regulations overlap at various levels of government.

ABMDR is seeking support to ramp up the registry recruitment campaigns through methods such as sending out cheek-swab test kits by post. They are currently seeking to sign up 125,000 Australian donors aged 18 to 35 in order to meet the domestic demand. I note the member for Kennedy also has a keen interest in increasing donor numbers. He and I have both had separate conversations with the health minister, but there is more work to be done. It's time for our technology to be brought up to international standards so this life-saving treatment can be had for so many people.


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