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MPs join the call for cheek swab kits

The opposition side of the Australian House of Representatives. Photo credit: PENNY BRADFIELD/DPS AUSPIC
March 29, 2023

Why cheek swabs?

Over recent decades, Australia’s register of blood stem cell donors has been in decline because we simply haven’t been allowed to recruit as many donors as we need. Having launched Strength to Give in 2019 to persuade governments of the effectiveness of cheek swabs, we know better than anyone that we needed to act at lightning speed.

Money to assist blood cancer already exists: Katter

“Thousands of lives could potentially be saved each year if the Federal Health Minister agrees to allocate revenue already collected by the Commonwealth.” This is how Federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter MP opened a press release published the day after he asked Health Minister Mark Butler a question without notice in the House of Representatives.

Mr Butler confirmed that Australia had not kept up with international standards to increase donor numbers. He agreed that cheek swabs were used by other nations as an effective and economical way of adding donors to the registry but said that screening process was not available in Australia.

Mr Butler said too much “jurisdictional, bureaucratic red tape” was impacting patients.

In the days and weeks following, Mr. Katter and ABMDR CEO Lisa Smith met with many Members of Parliament, including Independent Federal Member for Kooyong, Dr Monique Ryan.

For Katter, this is personal

Mr Katter’s pleas come as his nephew and father of two, Liam O’Brien, 40, was diagnosed with leukemia just six months ago. Like 70 per cent of people with blood cancer and related conditions, Mr O’Brien is relying on the stem cell register to find a suitable match.

Mr O’Brien’s wife Josephine launched The Lifesaving List social media campaign and said young blood donors aged 18-35 years were being urged to take an extra two-minute step at the blood bank and add their name to the stem cell register. She said she was shocked to find out just how many Australians were in a similar situation to Liam, and were unable to find a match in Australia.

Josephine spoke with Jonesy & Amanda on Gold 104.3 about the campaign her family is running:

Funding needed to target uni students

Mr Katter returned to Question Time in March to reiterate his call for funds to be released for a national cheek swabbing campaign.

He wasn’t alone this time, with members of both major parties and independents contributing to the discussion. Here’s the full debate from the House of Representatives.

Unlikely allies?

As before, the attention in Parliament led to more collaboration with other Members including Independent Wentworth MP Allegra Spender.

Liam finds a match

Fortunately, it’s good news for Liam. He recently found a donor match and will soon be receiving a blood stem cell transplant. Liam and his wife appeared on Today to share the good news.


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