Posted on June 25, 2019

Why the Demand for Black Bone Marrow Donors Is High—And Awareness Is Low

Deonna Anderson, Yes!, June 12, 2019


{snip} Every year in the United States, about 12,000 people up to age 74 need bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplants for survival.

Bone marrow donors go through one of two procedures when they’re found to be a match: a peripheral blood stem cell process, where the donor has a needle inserted into an arm that collects stem cells; or a surgical procedure, where the donor is put under anesthesia and then has bone marrow extracted from the lower back region. Most donors go through the first process. Each process often leaves the donor slightly bruised, but that’s about the worst of it.

The likelihood of a person matching with an available donor on the Be The Match registry ranges from 19 to 80 percent, depending on their ethnicity, according to worldwide data from the organization.

{snip} In recent years, there have been numerous reports that the number of Black bone marrow donors is too low. Black people seeking a bone marrow transplant have about a 23 percent chance of finding donors, compared to 41 percent for people who identify as Asian and Pacific Islander, 46 percent for Hispanic or Latino people, and 77 percent for White people. Mixed race people have the biggest challenge, because only 3 percent of registered donors identify as mixed race, according to Be The Match.

This is a medical problem because people tend to match with others in their ethnicity group. {snip}

For Black people, whose donor pool is exceptionally small, closing those disparities is crucial. But, advocates say, medical professionals must first acknowledge historical and current racism in the field.

Black people have been mistreated and abused for medical purposes since slavery. In the Tuskegee experiment, in which Black men were infected with syphilis and deprived of sufficient medical care for decades, leading to serious complications like blindness and death. {snip}

That history of medical violence has resulted in a general mistrust among Black Americans toward health practitioners. For example, a 2017 poll found that 1 in 5 Black people avoided medical care because they were concerned about discrimination.