July is African American Bone Marrow Awareness Month. When donating bone marrow, the chances of a successful match rise if the donor and recipient are of the same ethnicity. Nevertheless, most patients do not have a match within their own families.
Bone marrow donation is easy and relatively painless; it is not dangerous and no pieces of bone are removed. A bone marrow transplant occurs by replacing damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. Bone marrow transplants have the capability of curing some diseases due to the fact that the stem cells within bone marrow can turn into any cell the body needs.
For African Americans, there is a discrepancy between number of donors and number of recipients. Due to increased risk of diseases like sickle cell and more complicated tissues, African Americans are in dire need of bone marrow donations; in fact, because of their mixed heritage, African Americans are 30% less likely to find a match than Caucasians. Compounding this, African Americans only make up about 8% of the donor registry. African Americans hold a 66% likelihood of finding a donor on the Be The Match registry, while Caucasians have a 93% chance.
Despite the various barriers facing African American bone marrow recipients, awareness is still the largest hurdle. Most African Americans are not aware the registry even exists therefore the crisis goes unnoticed. Other patient barriers include, but are not limited to, access to healthcare, no or limited insurance, a decline in health status, or lack of a timely referral. Though most of these barriers are out of our control, donating bone marrow is the one resource that the general public can donate their time towards.
Kicking off in August, Michigan Blood is partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Mercy Health St. Mary’s, and the Kent County Kalamazoo-Muskegon Michigan National Black Nurses Association (KMMNBNA) in a community awareness effort towards the African American community blood supply and marrow donor registry. The effort will culminate in October with a community-wide bone marrow donor event (details to come soon).
For more information on the Be The Match Registry, visit their website where you can find additional facts and information on how to join the registry yourself.
How can you raise African American Bone Marrow awareness in your community?