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Ads seek ethnic donors

Commercials explain need for matches

by Kyle Wells reporter@prpeak.com A series of commercials have been produced in Powell River with local crew and cast that will be aired to encourage people of certain ethnic backgrounds to register as bone marrow donors.

The Powell River-based Bruce Denniston Bone Marrow Society is behind the initiative called Diversity for Life and has used funding from grants to produce the radio, television and poster ads that speak directly to the ethnic groups that are short on donors.

Matches for bone marrow donors are found at the level of DNA, so ethnicity does come into play. Bone marrow donors can be hard to find in the first place and finding donors with particular ethnic backgrounds can be especially difficult.

Over 300,000 people are registered in Canada as donors, which is a number far greater than when the society formed. The problem is that of those 300,000, 80 per cent are Caucasian. Within the registry there are limited numbers of Asian, including South Asian, and first nations people signed up, making it difficult for people of those ethnicities to find a match.

With money from government grants the society hired local people to make the advertisements. Bear Tooth Mountain Research Ltd., headed by Kathleen O’Neill, came on board as the local company to produce the radio, television and poster ads.

Five television commercials were created in total. All of them were filmed in Powell River, featuring local people talking about registering as donors, including Diana Wood, Erik Blaney and Mohinder Singh. Three of the ads are in English, one is in Mandarin and one in Punjabi.

Erik Blaney, originally from Tla’Amin (Sliammon) First Nation, is in the commercial that asks first nations people to register. Blaney suffers from the genetic blood disease thalassemia that he has been dealing with for the past five years. He said that eventually he will most likely need a bone marrow transplant.

The most notable gap in the registry is for first nations people. Bone marrow registries are connected worldwide but as most people of first nations origin only live in North America this limits the availability of donors. Out of 1.7 million first nations people in Canada, only one per cent, 1,700, are registered as donors.

Blaney said he has the personal goal of getting an additional 5,000 first nations people to register for transplants. He is doing this by spreading the message at public forums and encouraging people to sign up.

“I really want to get the message out to first nations communities in any way that I can,” said Blaney. “I want to push on and get the message out there.”

All the ads have been completed and now the society is looking for the funds necessary to air the ads. A funding coordinator has been hired to write grant applications. The society is hoping to launch the commercials soon with some media companies as public service announcements, which are often aired for free.

“We’re still building the registry but we want to reach out to ethnic groups so that they can have a chance to find a match like the rest of us do,” said Danita Senf, society national executive assistant.

To begin the process to register as a bone marrow donor, readers can visit the website to fill out a questionnaire.