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Blacks lag behind for lung transplants

Lee Jackson | 3/19/2008, 5 p.m.

Researchers at Columbia University released a new study indicating that African Americans with fatal lung diseases do not have equal opportunities for lung transplants.
The numbers of African-Americans on waiting lists for new organs are about half of what they should be based on the prevalence of certain lung diseases.
After getting on a waiting list, 61 percent of blacks with chronic bronchitis or emphysema received transplants compared with 68 percent of whites. The researchers also discovered that once placed on the waiting list, blacks were less likely to receive a transplant compared to whites. Blacks were also more likely to die or otherwise be removed from the lists before undergoing the surgeries.
Of the 2,000 adults nationwide who get on waiting lists for lung transplants each year, about 150 are black.
Differing access to health care, insurance coverage and other risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure are some of the reasons blacks dont get on the transplant list as often as whites.
The national study, which was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in January, pointed out that populations from low-income families have been successful recipients of transplants.
Transplant doctors also say that the makeup of the waiting list reflects whether primary care doctors and lung specialists know about transplant options and refer their patients early enough.
African Americans suffer disproportionately from some serious diseases that affect the lungs, including sarcoidosis, which causes inflammation. Other chronic lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and emphysema, are more common in the white population.
Dr. Stuart Sweet, lung transplant director at St. Louis Childrens Hospital, observed that economic status remains an issue in transplantation. Pre- and post-transplant care requires a large financial and time commitment for the patients and their families. There are multiple appointments and tests, and lifestyle changes as well.
If you come from a poor socioeconomic status, it makes it more challenging for the family to do all the things that are required, Sweet said. African-Americans have access issues to medical care, and thats reflected in outcomes for transplantation.