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This Black History Month NHS Blood and Transplant is urging black people to join the rising numbers saving lives in their community by registering as blood and organ donors.
More people from black backgrounds are now giving blood and donating their organs after they have died. But there is still an urgent shortage of donors to help black patients who need lifesaving or life enhancing blood transfusions and organ transplants.
There are now more than 17,000 active blood donors from black backgrounds compared with fewer than 13,000 five years ago (1).
But NHS Blood and Transplant urgently needs 40,000 more people from black African, black Caribbean and mixed heritage backgrounds to come forward as blood donors, as they are more likely to have the Ro blood type which can help people with sickle cell.
The number of black people donating their organs after they have died and those donating a kidney during their lifetime remains low, and more black organ donors are urgently needed.
Last year 25 people from black backgrounds donated organs after they died. While this is an increase compared with 17 five years earlier, black families are still less likely to go ahead with organ donation than white families (2).
The number of living organ donors from the black community is declining, mirroring the trend across all ethnicities. Last year 17 black people donated a kidney as a living donor, less than half the figure of five years earlier.
In contrast there are currently 632 black people waiting for a transplant with the vast majority of those in need of a kidney (3). Sadly, last year 31 patients from black backgrounds died waiting for a transplant (4).
The severe shortage of organ donors from black backgrounds means that black people wait on average more than six months longer for a kidney transplant than people from white backgrounds.
Davinia Caballero, 33, from Brixton in London, needed a transplant after her kidneys were damaged by sickle cell disease. She was forced to rely on dialysis and needed blood transfusions during her treatment. Davinia received a kidney from her brother David through living donation in 2017.
“I was lucky. Without my brother’s generosity I may have faced years on dialysis because of the lack of donors, particularly from black backgrounds. People in our community don’t talk enough about organ donation and that needs to change,” said Davinia, who is a member of NHS Blood and Transplant’s B Positive Choir.
“More black people need to step up as blood donors too. Blood transfusions helped me through dialysis and I have friends with sickle cell who rely on regular transfusions just to stay alive. Many people think blood is only needed in emergency situations, but it is important in many other ways too.
“This October we celebrate our black heroes of history, but donors are heroes too. Please join them. Sign up to give blood and be an organ donor and save lives in our community.”
During Black History Month, NHS Blood and Transplant is holding a number of events across the country to raise awareness and boost donor numbers.
The activity is part of a government campaign being led by NHS Blood and Transplant to break down barriers to donation that exist within black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.
Sally Johnson, Interim Chief Executive of NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Donors save and improve lives. More than 2,300 people from the black community are alive today thanks to an organ transplant (5).
“Many of the 15,000 people living with sickle cell disease in the UK depend on frequent blood transfusions to lead normal lives. We need 10 blood donors to make each transfusion possible.
“We are incredibly grateful to every person who gives blood and joins the NHS Organ Donor Register, and to those inspirational families who say yes to organ donation after a loved one has died.
“More black people are saving lives in these ways. But there is still an urgent need for people in the black community to help others who depend on a match with a donor from a similar ethnic background.
“Please, make Black History Month the time you take action to save lives in your community. Sign up as a blood donor and join the NHS Organ Donor Register, and talk to your family and friends about your decision.”
Photo: Davinia Caballero.
1) The chart shows current active blood donor numbers. Active blood donor refers to people who have donated blood in the last year.
2) Statistics from the Organ Donation and Transplantation Activity Report 207/18
3) Number on the active transplant waiting list on 18 September 2018. Of this figure, 586 were waiting for a kidney and 15 were waiting for a kidney/pancreas.
4) Number of people from black backgrounds who died in 2017/18 while on the active transplant waiting list or within a year of being removed from the list.
5) There were 2,303 patients from black backgrounds known to have functioning transplants as at 3 September 2018.
Sickle cell disease is a genetically inherited blood disorder in which the oxygen carrying the red blood cells are more likely to alter their shape and cause problems such as bone pain. It is most common in the black community. Patients with this condition often require regular blood transfusions. Blood transfusions from donors with a similar ethnic background give the best match and outcomes in the long term. Improvements in the way the NHS treats sickle cell patients have led to an 80% increase in demand for Ro blood over the last three years.
Black people are more likely to need an organ transplant as they are more susceptible to illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, which could result in organ failure and the need for a lifesaving transplant.
Kidneys are matched by blood group and tissue type, and people from the same ethnic background are more likely to have matching blood groups and tissue types. For other organs there is a need to match blood groups, but less or no requirement to match tissue types.
NHS Blood and Transplant is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. We provide the blood donation service for England and the organ donation service for the UK. We also provide donated tissues, stem cells and cord blood. We are an essential part of the NHS, saving and improving lives through public donation.
• It is quick and easy to join the NHS Organ Donor Register. Call 0300 123 23 23 or visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk
• Families are always involved in organ donation discussions. You can make things easier for your family by telling them you want to donate.
• Every day across the UK around three people who could have benefited from a transplant die because there aren’t enough organ donors.
• Anyone can join the NHS Organ Donor Register, age and medical conditions are not necessarily a barrier to donation.
• One donor can save or transform up to nine lives through organ donation and save and transforms even more by donating tissue.
• The Government has announced plans for a presumed consent system of organ donation to take effect from spring 2020. Under the system, you would be a donor unless you register a decision not to donate. Families will still be able to object to donation so it’s important that you make their decision easier at a difficult time by also telling them that you want to donate.
• It is quick and easy to book an appointment to give blood. Call 0300 123 23 23 or visit www.blood.co.uk
• NHS Blood and Transplant needs to collect 1.4 million units of blood each year to meet the needs of patients across England.
• There are four main blood groups – O, A, B and AB. O negative (the universal blood group) and B negative are particularly vulnerable to shortfalls. So, we want people with those blood groups to donate as regularly as they can.
• The overall demand for blood is falling by 3-4% per year due to improvements in clinical practice and our work with hospitals to ensure blood is used appropriately for patients.
• We need nearly 250,000 new blood donors each year to replace those who stop donating and to ensure we have the right mix of blood groups to match patient needs in the future.
• We urgently need 40,000 more black donors as they are more likely to have the blood type needed to treat the increasing number of patients suffering from Sickle Cell Disease.