According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, the disease affects more than 70,000 people nationwide – the majority of them African American. Recent research has demonstrated that there are ways to reduce pain from sickle cell, as well as prevent strokes in children with sickle cell, one of the most serious side effects of the disease, said Melissa McMillan, a spokesperson for America’s Blood Centers.
“Since 1997, doctors have been advised to treat high-risk kids with sickle cell disease with blood transfusions every three to four weeks,” said McMillan. “This treatment has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke in children with sickle cell disease by as much as 90 percent.”
Blood cells carry many different proteins on their surfaces, and the types of proteins present vary between ethnic groups. When African American patients with sickle cell disease receive transfusions of blood from a donor who is non-Caucasian, a rejection reaction is less likely since donor and recipient blood proteins will be more alike.
“When you try to find compatible blood for people, you must take into account the ethnic and racial background of both the donor and the recipient,” Dr. Donald Siegel of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center said. “If there were more donations from minority groups, it would be easier to find matches for minority patients.”
Of the 5 percent of the population that donates blood, only one in 10 are African American or Hispanic, meaning that there is less blood available to treat all of the children with sickle cell disease with specially-matched transfusions. The African American and Hispanic population has grown tremendously in our country driving the increased need for African American and Hispanic donors.
In Philadelphia the Red Cross Penn-Jersey Blood Services Region has partnered with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Program to register blood donors that closely match the blood types of sickle cell patients.
Minority blood donations are needed throughout the year to meet the increasing demand for blood. In minority populations in general, there is a greater preponderance of type O and type B blood – exactly what the Red Cross is lacking year round.
As long as Red Cross donor programs continue to educate, inform and successfully recruit our country’s quickly growing minority populations, children can rest assured that their medical care is not in jeopardy.