Tackling Leukaemia is working with grassroots clubs…

Article by: Joseph Guenzler Reprinted from the National Indigenous Times
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Tackling Leukaemia is working with grassroots clubs to help boost the Bone Marrow Donor List Registry

With blood cancer rates among young First Nations and Pasifika people rising, Tackling Leukaemia is targeting grassroots sporting communities to bring awareness to the effects of leukaemia and increasing sign-ups to the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR). 

Tackling Leukaemia Inc (T/A Rugby Tackles Leukaemia) is a insured, registered charity with DGR status and a ‘Not for Profit’ grass roots organisation whose aims are to increase the level of donation of stem cells from members of the Pasifika and Indigenous Cohort in concert with the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR).

Leukaemia is a form of blood cancer which attacks the body without warning and does not discriminate between age, gender or race.

Treatment for Leukaemia generally involves a process whereby the cancerous cells are killed off via radiation and/or chemotherapy.

These cells are then replaced with donor stem cells which can then continue the fight within the patient’s body.

Donor stem cells can come from family members of the patient or from a world-wide (mostly European) bank of registered donors.

Unfortunately, Australia has one of the world’s lowest rates of bone marrow donation with only around 4% of all donors being 'ideal' (Males ages 18-35) and <1% being First Nations and Pasifika. 

First Nations and Pasifika Cohorts have rare blood types and the stem cells from non-Pasifika/Indigenous donors are generally not a suitable ‘match’ for them. 

President of Tackling Leukaemia Kevin Maloney, is a former First Grade Referee and current level two coach. He contracted Leukaemia in late 2014 and through the generosity of a suitable donor, survived. 

He recently discussed the program with the National Indigenous Times. 

"Members of the Maori, Pasifika and Indigneous cohort have a rare HLA blood type and are overrepresented with the disease but under-represented on the ABMDR," he said. 

"So we went out using rugby as a vehicle to sign up people here in Victoria from the Rugby Clubs, but we were thwarted somewhat by Covid lockdowns.

"However we achieved just on 10% increase in the numbers for the cohort on the Donor Registry," Mr Maloney said.  

Tackling Leukaemia will continue to address low donor numbers by working with Rugby clubs and having the players which are generally ideal donors, register to become stem cell donors.

The matching process no longer relies on taking a sample of blood as a mouth swab test is now available.

"In 2021 we met with a group of Power House senior players, and on the day, all eligible volunteered, were swabbed, and registered as potential donors," Mr Maloney said. 

"The Melbourne Rebels also embraced this initiative and most of the 2021/22 squad were swabbed and signed up as
donors by us.

"Since then, player groups from Moorabbin, Box Hill, Melbourne University, Northern Pant hers and Kiwi-Hawthorn Rugby Clubs have been swabbed, with Endeavour Hills, Brimbank Bucks, Ballarat Highlanders Rugby Clubs, and five other Victorian Clubs already committed to join us as soon as possible."

Tackling Leukaemia plans to extend their base of potential donors to include all Rugby clubs in Australia, as well as other sporting codes targeting their First Nation and Pasifika members. 

Mr Maloney urges anyone who may be interested to get in touch via the following link.