1 in 3 African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease
Sickle Cell Awareness Month may be coming to a close, but the work of the American Red Cross initiative to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease continues.
The Red Cross is teaming up with local organizations in the Black community to rally blood donors who are Black to support patients with sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S., mostly affecting patients of African descent who may require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime.
“Blood donors who are Black play a critical role in helping patients battling sickle cell disease receive the most compatible blood match. Today, there aren’t enough blood donors to meet this urgent need and ensure those fighting sickle cell disease have continued access to the treatments they need,” said Tony Briggs, Regional Executive and Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Chapter.
To help this, the Red Cross teamed up with Community Advocacy Coalition in Ventura County to host a blood drive during Black History Month this year. They held their first successful blood drive where 31 units of life-saving blood were collected, which could directly impact the lives of up to 93 patients. More than half of the donors that came out that day to give were first-time donors, an incredible accomplishment! The drive was the first to come, with another held this month during Sickle Cell Awareness Month.
“Community partnerships like this demonstrate that when we care for our community together, we can make a difference,” explained Briggs. “Sickle cell disease has few visible symptoms. In fact, many individuals battling this disease often look healthy despite suffering in pain. The mission of the Red Cross is to alleviate human suffering. We are doing that by advocating for patients battling this cruel disease to improve access to the most compatible blood products and find ways the Black community and community at large can support the transfusion needs of patients.”
Sickle cell disease distorts the shape of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of the human body, thanks to their round shape. With sickle cell anemia, the blood cells are sickle-shaped (hence the name). These cells become hard over time and do not flow easily, which blocks the blood flow. The results of having sickle cell could be severe, including stroke and organ failure.
People with sickle cell need blood transfusions at regular intervals. The challenge is not just to find blood when it is needed, but also to find a matching donor. This is a constant, life-long struggle for many living with the condition. In the United States, more than 100,000 people are estimated to be living with sickle cell disease. Most of them are of African descent.
The Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative, Our Blood Saves Lives, which launched with community partners in 2021 to grow the number of blood donors who are Black and improve health outcomes for patients with sickle cell disease. In the initiative’s first year, the number of first-time African American blood donors who gave with the Red Cross increased by 60%. Learn more about the initiative at RedCrossBlood.org/OurBlood.
The Red Cross asks members of the Black community to join in helping to address this health disparity and meet the needs of patients with sickle cell disease. Donors can take action today by scheduling a blood donation appointment at RedCrossBlood.org, by downloading the Blood Donor App, or by calling 1-800 RED CROSS. Please help to tackle the need for blood in September – Sickle Cell Awareness Month.