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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
02/06/2010
HEALTH AD AGEING PORTFOLIO
National Blood Authority

CHAIR —Welcome to the officers from the NBA. Senator Siewert has some questions.

Senator SIEWERT —This is a bit of a general question. Did you see the Australia Institute report that was released relatively recently about the impact of climate change on blood supply?

Dr Turner —Not specifically. We are aware, though, that if climate changes there is a likelihood of us getting more viral diseases transmitted in the northern part of Australia, which will impact on some of what we can do with blood collected in those areas. So we are aware of the general principles, but I have not read that specific report.

Senator SIEWERT —It makes quite interesting reading in terms of looking at some of the case studies and raises, I think, some very interesting questions. I realise you cannot answer any questions about the report because you have not read it, but you said you are aware of the issues around climate change and I am wondering what actions you are taking to address that specific issue.

Dr Turner —In terms of change in the climate, unfortunately, we are unable to do anything! Sorry, I am being flippant.

Senator SIEWERT —I meant in terms of blood supply.

Dr Turner —The NBA has a very active horizon-scanning program which looks at all the emerging potential threats to the blood supply—of which, of course, climate change is one. But there are also viruses which just arise spontaneously throughout the world which would have nothing to do with climate change. We keep a very active eye on those and see how other blood services are responding and how the technology can respond. We are very active in looking at that, together with the Red Cross, which obviously has to take appropriate actions. We will then do what we can to mitigate those risks if we think the blood supply is under threat.

Senator SIEWERT —I appreciate, of course, that you would be watching for viruses. It seems to me, with climate change, and from what I understand there is indication already, that some diseases are spreading further south—for example, encephalitis—

Dr Turner —And dengue.

Senator SIEWERT —dengue, et cetera.

Dr Turner —Yes, absolutely.

Senator SIEWERT —So, instead of it just being that we may need an emergency response because we are dealing with a particular virus in a particular circumstance in a one-off situation, my understanding is that, with the disease vectors changing and moving further south, we are going to be having on ongoing issue, rather than perhaps responding to particular occurrences of a particular virus at any one time.

Dr Turner —Yes, I think that is correct. For example, in respect to dengue, which does appear—although somebody may correct me—to be moving slightly south, the Red Cross Blood Service is unable to use fresh blood that they collect in those areas. They can, however, use the plasma collected in those areas because the risk mitigation measures that are used in the production of plasma products mean that any virus that is in there would be destroyed. So there is no risk there. As things change, we do change the practices that the blood service has in response to that.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you for that; I appreciate that explanation. It will have an impact, though, on available blood. You can deal with it in terms of generating certain blood products, but it may have an impact in some localities on blood supply. Is that a correct understanding?

Dr Turner —That is correct, although the blood supply is managed at a national level. So as we are unable, for whatever reason, to collect fresh blood in one area, the system will compensate by collecting blood in other areas. At this point in time, we and the Red Cross have had no problems in dealing with the shortages because of that.

Senator SIEWERT —Okay. But you may need to deal with it in the future in terms of looking at overall national supply.

Dr Turner —Absolutely, and those things are very closely monitored.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you.

CHAIR —Are there any further questions to the National Blood Authority? There being none, thank you very much.

Dr Turner —You are welcome.

[12.04 pm]