One day as I was listening to one of my podcasts (I listen to quite a few so forgive me because I do not remember the exact podcast) and one of the hosts mentioned the lack of African-American donors. Because I have never had to experience a family member or friend need an organ donation I did not know that there was a shortage of African-American donors. I know, I know how did I not know when this is a problem that has been talked about and discussed before, but to be honest because this is not something that has affected me personally I was not educated on the issue.
For bone marrow and organ transplants patients are dependent upon finding a donor who shares a similar genetic makeup. For a bone marrow transplant, a treatment typically for blood related cancers where the bone marrow from the donor is used to replace that of the patients, hopefully in the likes of the patient getting better. But when you’re African-American or a person of color in general, there are not as many donors to choose from and your odds may become slim. There are millions of donors who are registered with the National Marrow Donor Program, but out of the millions of donors registered only 8 percent are African-American. When receiving a bone marrow donation it is closely linked with an individuals race, which means that African-Americans who do need a bone marrow donation have an extremely tiny pool of people who could be potential donors. A few experts have stated that African-Americans have rare genetic make-ups than Caucasians because their genes tend to be more racially mixed which makes finding a donor with a precise match that much harder. Dr. Willis Navarro stated during an interview with NPR that, African-Americans are not purely Africans and have a mixture and extremely broad and diverse group of different ethnic populations that will also make it difficult to find a donor. Although, these are not the only issues when trying to find a donor as a person of color. In a few studies conducted by the Journal of the National Medical Association regarding the shortage of the availability of donors within the African-American community, historically, African-Americans donate organs at a much lower rate than their white counterparts. The study, “Differences in Attitude Toward Organ Donation Among African-Americans and Whites in the United States” studied and analyzed the reasons as to why many African-Americans choose not to be organ donors. In the study, one of the main reasons many African-Americans chose not to be organ donors was a lack of trust in the medical industry, which is not uncommon nor is it unwarranted. Between 1932-1972, a 40-year span, a syphilis experiment called “The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment” was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and misled 400 African-American males by withholding information regarding their illness. These men were purposely left untreated to see what would happen. The medical community used the African-American community and these African-American men as guinea pigs and put their health on the line to see what the effects would or could be. Since the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, there has been a strained relationship between the African-American community and the medical community where many African-Americans feel as though an experiment like the Tuskegee experiment could happen again. This idea that the medical community would once again harm or experiment on the African-American community has made many African-Americans choose not to sign up to become donors.
While there is a mistrust of the medical community amongst the African-American community, there is also a miseducation as many, not only African-Americans, do not know what they are in for when being a donor. Many think if they are donors and have to give blood or bone marrow to a person in need the procedure will be extremely painful, but that is no longer the case with an increase of technology in the medical field.
Being an organ donor or a donor in general regardless of if you’re just giving blood is extremely helpful to someone in need. I also urge, if comfortable, for more African-American people to become organ donors as this will benefit and help our community as African-Americans are the least likely to find one potential match. We must do everything we can to help one another.
*If you or anyone you know is searching or in need of a donor, the Black Bone Marrow website is an additional source. Link listed below*