August is National Minority Donor Awareness Month, which focuses attention on the need for minority blood and organ donors. The focus of the awareness campaign is to increase participation in donor programs in order to save lives.  

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, communities of color have much higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, all of which increase the risk for kidney disease. 

Kidney

Due to chronic conditions, minority patients see an increased need for transplants affecting the heart, kidney, pancreas, and liver. Black Americans are almost four times more likely, and Latino Americans are 1.3 times more likely, to have kidney failure compared to White Americans. 

Despite the higher risk, data shows Black and Latino patients on dialysis are less likely to be placed on the transplant waitlist and have a lower likelihood of transplantation. 

As of 2021, the organ with the most patients waiting for transplants in the U.S. was kidneys, followed by livers. Over 100 thousand patients were in need of a kidney at that time. Within the African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and Pacific Islander-American communities, the need for transplants becomes even more dire. Minorities make up 57% of those on the organ waiting list. 

Bone Marrow

Because only about 30% of patients can find a fully matched donor within their family, most people in need of a bone marrow transplant are matched through the registry. Yet despite its large size, this volunteer registry lacks ethnic and racial diversity. For example, a Black person has a 29% chance of finding a matched donor in the registry, while a White person has a 77% chance. People of color make up a small percentage of all donors, making it difficult to find matches for people with cancer who are not White or who are of mixed race and ethnicity.

Organ Transplant

African-Americans make up the largest group of minorities in need of an organ transplant. In 2019, Blacks made up 12.8 percent of the national population. Thirty-eight percent of African-Americans stated they would not donate organs, compared to 10% of Whites. When asked why not, African-Americans stated “personal reasons” followed by “if I am an organ donor, I won’t get the necessary medical attention” as their top choices. Although many Black and Asian patients can receive a transplant from non-minority donors, for many, the best match will come from a donor from the same ethnic background.

It is important to note that organ donation is not based on race or ethnicity. Anyone can donate because all organs can save a life. And while the race of blood donors and blood recipients typically do not matter as long as their blood types are compatible, individuals who are Black (including African-American or other individuals of African descent) can have unique needs.

Sickle Cell Blood Needs 

Black patients continue to face racial inequities in the fight against sickle cell disease. Unlike other diseases, there have been fewer health resources available to help those suffering from sickle cell disease in comparison to similar diseases. Today, blood transfusions for patients with sickle cell disease remain one of the primary treatments to help alleviate the pain of this disease. 

Blood transfused to patients with rare blood types, like those with sickle cell disease, must be matched very closely to reduce the risk of complications. These patients are more likely to find a compatible blood match from a blood donor of the same race or ethnicity.

Call To Action

Part of being informed includes practicing good health habits. Get regular exercise, and increase the ingestion of fruits and vegetables. Limit saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars and control portion sizes. The healthier the community, the fewer transplants will be needed. 

Living donation does not change life expectancy and does not appear to increase the risk of kidney failure. In general, most people with a single normal kidney have few or no problems. For more information, visit https://www.donatelife.net/nmdam/.

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