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COVID-19 and the effect on stem cell donations

We are aware that there is concern in the blood cancer community about the impact of COVID-19 and international travel restrictions on the availability of stem cell donations from overseas.

Currently, the majority of stem cells donated to Australian patients come from overseas donors. While some Australian patients find a matching donor within Australia, the majority of other donors will find a match in countries like the UK, US, or Europe.

How will COVID-19 and travel restrictions affect overseas donations of stem cells?

The Australia Bone Marrow Donor Registry (the Registry) is working closely with the Australian Government, the Bone Marrow Transplant Society of Australia and New Zealand (BMTSANZ) and transplant centres to ensure that stem cell donations from overseas are still able to be brought into Australia to meet the needs of patients requiring an allogeneic stem cell transplant.

While the current restrictions have impacted the usual process for transporting stem cell transplants internationally, the Registry is working with the Australian Government, the BMTSANZ and transplant centres to ensure that alternative avenues for transporting cells are being utilised.

For more details on the management of priorities in relation to stem cell transplants, the BMTSANZ has recently released a position statement

If someone is concerned about their (or a family member’s) need for a stem cell transplant, what should they do?

If you have any concerns about your treatment, please speak to your treating clinician.

The Registry is communicating with the BMTSANZ and transplant centres to ensure they are aware of any changes to the usual process of bringing stem cells into Australia.

How can we increase the pool of local donors in Australia?

Every day 41 Australians are diagnosed with blood cancer and each year more than 600 people living with blood cancer will need an allogeneic stem cell transplant to survive.

The Registry is connected to registries all around the world to meet the needs of Australia’s ethnically diverse patients. The majority of Australian patients will require an overseas donor to be able to receive their vital treatment.

To increase the pool of local donors, the Registry has launched the Strength to Give campaign, to encourage young men aged 18-30 from a diverse group of ethnic backgrounds to register to be a stem cell donor. Younger male donors result in better outcomes for patients and increase their chances of finding the best possible match.

The Leukaemia Foundation is working in partnership with the Registry on the Strength to Give campaign to increase the number of local donors available to meet the needs of Australian patients. For more information and if you would like to find out about becoming a donor, please visit

Becoming a donor is easy – all it takes is a simple cheek swab which you can do at home. You can register on the Strength to Give website and the Registry will send you a cheek swab pack in the post.

Can someone still do a cheek swab test if they are concerned about having COVID-19? Are they able to donate stem cells if they’ve had COVID-19?

If you do not have a confirmed case of COVID-19, and are otherwise well, then you can swab. However, if you’re sick or know you have COVID-19, then please wait until you’re better.

In all cases, just make sure to follow the swabbing instructions provided. Donors who have had COVID-19 can still join the Registry. Where a matching donor is unwell or has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the collection of their stem cells is deferred until it is safe for them to donate.


Last updated on April 3rd, 2020

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.

Interested in becoming a donor?

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