He found out he would need a bone marrow transplant in January this year, when the medication he was on stopped working. Despite initially being told that finding a match wouldn’t be an issue, he hasn’t found one with similar ancestry to his own. “As we learnt more it became clear that we weren’t going to achieve too much in Australia, with the limited testing capabilities,” she says. This may change, as Australia’s Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) starts a cheek swab program to recruit local donors. The program aims to expand the pool of bone marrow donors in Australia, which is small compared to other countries. In the four years to 2020, donor pools of comparable nations almost quadrupled in size, while Australia’s increased just 24 per cent. This means people unable or ineligible to donate blood also can’t register as a bone marrow donor. But overseas, cheek swabs — a quick and simple way of collecting cells to match with transplant recipients — have been widely used for over a decade. The chief executive of the ABMDR, Lisa Smith, says this has resulted in “an explosion” of overseas donors during that time — which Australia has become reliant on. “Going into the pandemic, 80 per cent of people needing a bone marrow transplant were not able to find one in Australia,” Ms Smith says. But overseas donations aren’t a plausible option for everyone, especially Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as patients with ethnicities that are common in Australia, but not in the global donor pool. Ms Smith says Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world and “it’s ultimately harming patients”. The Health Minister Mark Butler acknowledged the issue in February, and has indicated funding is in the works, but Ms Smith says the situation is urgent. And patients don’t just need to find a bone marrow match to get a transplant — they also need to be healthy enough to have the procedure. For people with cancer and others with life-threatening conditions, the search for a donor can take months, putting them in a precarious situation. With the help of family members overseas, Claudia has set up mass swabbing events in several countries to recruit as many potential donors as possible. Overseas registries — in Europe, the UK, the US, South Africa, Israel and the Netherlands — have treated Murray “as one of their own”, she says. Murray says people “we’ve never met, that we don’t know” have also offered to run swabbing drives in their local community. In 2019, the ABMDR ran a pilot program of mail-out cheek swabs called “Strength to Give” and recruited around 5,000 new donors. Governments funded a small extension of the program in 2020-21, allowing ABMDR to recruit another 6,000 donors. But funding dried up in mid-2021, and Ms Smith says the registry has been in limbo since. It’s clear people are still interested in becoming bone marrow donors. Earlier this month, Murray’s family was given special dispensation for a single cheek-swabbing event in Sydney, where they collected 270 swabs. They’ve also organised blood test drives, but those have more constraints. In Melbourne they were told they could not exceed 50 tests, despite more than 150 people expressing interest. “Now that we’re in it, we get a full sense of the frustration that ‘Strength to Give’ has felt for years.” Laboratories charge for test samples. If a match is found, the Government picks up the bill for the collection and transportation of overseas donations, or travel expenses for a related donor to come to Australia. But matching local donors with local patients won’t just cut costs. It will also reduce certain transplant risks, and ensure self-sufficiency during a crisis. It even has enough money to do it — the registry has accumulated $12.8 million from exporting umbilical cord blood — but can’t access the funds. While Health Ministers have approved the release of only $1 million to the ABMDR for blood testing and cheek swabbing, Ms Smith says it’s not enough. So, over the next several months, the registry will be using capital reserves to fund its “Strength to Give” program. Eligible people can sign up online and request swabs in the post. They can also join the registry when they next donate blood. Another important part of the ABMDR’s program will be helping patients run cheek swabbing events, like Murray’s family has done here and overseas. Murray says he feels “extreme gratitude” towards his wife and his family for taking charge in a difficult situation. Whether they’re a match for Murray or not, the people who turn up to these swabbing events will be added to the global donor registry. Claudia says it’s the “cherry on top” of the situation. “We want every eligible 18 to 35 year old in Australia to swab and get themselves onto the registry — for Murray, for everyone.” Murray is positive he will find a match. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to governments and donor services working together to expand the registry. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work. This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced. AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)