BY LAUREN CODLING
CONSERVATIVE MP Priti Patel has called for a nationwide drive to increase the number of donors from ethnic minority communities as figures show a significant lack of Asians on the list.
The Witham MP raised the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday (23), requesting Theresa May to lead a national campaign for donor registration.
May said she was aware more needed to be done and she was fully supportive of Priti’s event stating that nearly £20 million has been provided to the NHS Blood and Transplant Service and blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan for stem cell donation since 2015.
“That includes some very specific stipulations about the numbers of newly registered donors stored in the UK blood bank that may be from BAME backgrounds and specific funding to support the recruitment of donors from BAME backgrounds,” May added.
Earlier, Patel attended an initiative in Westminster to help encourage Asian communities to sign up to the donor list.
According to Anthony Nolan, there is only a 20.5 per cent chance of finding a suitable stem cell donor for Asians, compared to 69 per cent for people with white or European heritage.
“Speaking to friends and family, it is clear that more work is needed to raise awareness within our community to increase understanding of how to help and become a donor,” Patel told Eastern Eye. “There are a number of misperceptions about how to be a donor, including the view that this is an invasive procedure when in fact it is as straight forward as giving blood.”
The former secretary of state for international development, who has previously helped to raise money and awareness for the charity Children with Cancer, said health services, including pharmacies, must do more to raise awareness concerning the issue.
Patel said she hoped to see NHS commissioners working with pharmacies to have information points and test kits available with specific awareness drives around certain key health issues, such as registering to become a stem cell donor.
Explaining why she supported the donor campaign, Patel said: “As someone who has a voice and an ability to raise the issue in parliament, and also more widely within the community, I chose to do so.”
One of the children affected by a lack of donors is Kaiya Patel (no relation to the MP).
The five-year-old has acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a rare type of blood cancer that starts in the white blood cells, and “desperately” needs a stem call donor.
Unable to find a match within her family, a campaign is urging people to register as donors to help her.
Binit and Laila Patel, Kaiya’s uncle and aunt, were also in attendance at the drive. They confirmed Kaiya is “battling through” her tough treatment and is continuing to fight every step of the way.
“Kaiya is very lively and still enjoying playing with her sister,” Binit told Eastern Eye. “She goes to school a couple of hours a day and is generally very positive.”
Laila added: “Kaiya is on chemo every day and a week ago, she had an infection so that was a bit of a setback. Her parents are trying to keep her life as normal as they can as it is very tough treatment.”
The pair admitted that before Kaiya had fallen ill they were not aware of the low number of donors within the Asian community. However, they hoped the drive and campaign could raise further awareness and bring the issue to light.
“The Asian community are becoming aware they have a responsibility to register for their own community in the future,” Binit said. “Raising the issue, not just of stem cell donors, but any kind of donation needs to be talked about within the Asian community and awareness needs to be raised.”
Since Kaiya’s family have gone public with their story, Laila and Binit agree the support has been overwhelming. The family is feeling optimistic that a match will be found soon.
“You only need one person to make a match so the sentiment in the family is keep doing everything we can,” Binit said. “Even though it is a race against time, the family are feeling very positive.”
To find out how to become a donor, visit: https://webforms.anthonynolan.org/bone-marrow-stem-cell-register