House debates

Monday, 6 March 2023

Private Members' Business

Blood Stem Cell Donation

11:46 am

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

The Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry is the peak body for bone marrow and stem cell donations in Australia. These are used for the treatment of life-threatening conditions like leukaemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and bone marrow failure. Every 31 minutes an Australian is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Many of those individuals will need bone marrow transplantation to cure these desperately severe illnesses.

Australians would benefit from greater access to bone marrow transplants but our registry of potential donors is shrinking, rather than growing. To join the registry, at this point, you have to be healthy and aged between 18 and 35 years, because younger people make the most successful donors for patients in need of a transplant. However, the average age of a donor registered with the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry at the moment is 45 years. The registry is currently losing approximately 7,000 donors a year, as donors are retired from the registry at the age of 60, but only 5,000 new donors are added each year. As we've heard, there are currently only 140,000 contactable donors on the ABMDR. More than 80 per cent of unmatched unrelated donors are currently coming from overseas, at a cost of $50,000 a donor, because we just don't have enough donors registered in Australia. We know that bone marrow transplants are more likely to succeed when the donor has a similar ethnic background to the recipient. Indigenous Australians and persons from ethnic minorities are hugely disadvantaged by our reliance on overseas donors. In many instances a match cannot be made for those individuals, and that failure can be life-threatening.

Australians are generous people who like to help others. Most of us would love to be able to save a life if we could. A bone marrow donor registry could be established very easily. All we need is consent from a donor and, as my colleagues have said, a painless cheek swab, but funding for recruiting and tissue-typing of potential donors is tied up in red tape. In 2019, the ABMDR established a pilot program called Strength to Give. It assessed how effectively it could recruit donors using home-delivered cheek swab tests. Similar kits are used every year to recruit millions of potential donors overseas. In July 2020 our government approved the recruitment of 6,000 donors through this pilot program, which was completed in April 2021. In that first year that recruitment included more than 4,360 ethnically diverse donors and more than 2,000 young men aged 19 to 35 years, but that pilot came to a halt at the end of 2021 because of a halt in the ongoing funding. Recruitment via cheek swabs, in addition to blood banks, has been demonstrated to be potentially rapid and cost effective, but it is not yet available to our population.

The ABMDR has $12.8 million in the bank, but our government will not allow it to access that money for donor recruitment and tissue typing. This beggars belief. The money is in the bank. It could be freed up today by our health minister with the stroke of a pen. It would allow the ABMDR to do its job and to save Australian lives. We could be finding new donors and saving the lives of critically ill patients within weeks. I ask the government to share the sense of urgency felt by those people and by their families. I ask the government to protect the best interests of our ethnically diverse populations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizens by showing leadership and initiative today. I ask the government to show the same degree of generosity as exhibited by the many thousands of Australians who would like to join the Bone Marrow Donor Registry and who would like to have the opportunity to save a life today.


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