At least 3,000 Americans die each year because they cannot find a matching donor. Black History month is the perfect time to remind readers that African American marrow donors are desperately needed to help save lives.
Patients waiting for bone marrow donors are most likely to match someone who shares their ancestry. Sadly, African Americans have historically had the lowest odds of finding a match compared to other populations.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a close match between a patient’s and donor’s tissue types can improve the chances of a successful transplant. When a patient searches for a donor, sometimes he or she finds a closely matched donor, sometimes not.
The disadvantage for African Americans begins with a reality confronted by most patients in need of a donor—at least 70 percent of patients do not have a fully matched marrow donor within their family. To that truth, add the concerning reality that compared to other race groups, Blacks are the least likely to find at least one potential donor.
Other barriers to transplants for members of the Black community historically included lack of access to health care; or their plan provided limited insurance coverage. Blacks are also too frequently the victims of a lack of timely referral for transplant.
In addition to these barriers another major roadblock for African Americans patients is there are not enough African American volunteer marrow donors on the registry. In addition, African Americans have the most diverse genetic tissue types compared to other ethnicities.
During Black History Month, the National Marrow Donor Program, Be The Match, has urged more African Americans to join the registry as volunteer marrow donors to help save the lives of other African Americans who are suffering from sickle cell anemia and life-threatening blood cancers. This is particularly critical for sickle cell patients. According to the registry, “About one out of every 365 African Americans are diagnosed with sickle cell disease each year and a marrow transplant is the only known cure for sickle cell disease.”
For those who might consider becoming a bone marrow donor it is important to know that donating bone marrow is safe. To date, more than 35,000 people have donated bone marrow to a stranger without a single donor death.
Be The Match is a nonprofit organization operated by the National Marrow Donor Program dedicated to helping every patient get the life-saving transplant they need.
To learn more about how to become a bone marrow donor and the Be The Match national bone marrow registry visit www.bethematch.org. To learn more about how being Black can save a life also visit www.blackbonemarrow.com.
Illustration: Andre Loftis Jr.