- Building awareness about the benefits of organ donation and transplantation
- Encouraging diverse communities to register as organ donors.
- Educating recipients about why it matters to share blood types and tissue.
- Addressing misconceptions and misinformation around organ donation.
[6 MIN READ]
August is National Minority Donor Awareness Month, a collaborative effort by the National Multicultural Action Group to save and improve the quality of life of diverse communities by creating a positive culture for organ, eye and tissue donation.
The awareness month began in 1996 as National Minority Donor Awareness Week, an effort to increase understanding about organ donation and transplantation in diverse communities. According to Donate Life America, there are currently more than 100,000 people on transplant waiting lists, with over 60% of those potential recipients coming from diverse communities.
This year's event is themed 'One Voice, One Vision...To Save and Heal Lives' and promotes education to:
- Highlight the need for organ donations within multicultural communities.
- Provide education about donating.
- Encourage donor registration.
- Foster healthful living and habits that prevent disease and reduce the need for transplants.
"Many minority communities have less access to basic healthcare needs such as annual wellness checks, including blood pressure and diabetes screenings. These inequities lead to higher prevalence of obesity, hypertension, glucose intolerance or other comorbidities that may reduce their ability to be an acceptable organ donor," says Nidyanandh Vadivel, M.D., medical director, kidney living donor and pancreas transplant at Swedish First Hill. "Decreased access to health care and lower transplantation awareness, may lead to increased mistrust in the organ donation process. Transplantation awareness is more likely to be successful if delivered in a culturally sensitive manner through systematic efforts that include improved health care access for every community."
Addressing the shortage of minority donors
There’s a serious shortage of transplants in Black, Asian, Latinx, Native American and Pacific Islander-American communities. Minority patients have a greater need for transplants because many suffer from chronic conditions that affect the heart, kidney, pancreas and liver.
Patients from communities of color make up more than half – 60% – of the national waiting list for a life-saving transplant.
Donation organizations focus on several factors when they’re matching donors to recipients. The most vital aspect is blood type. That’s because ethnic groups often have similar blood types. Success rates tend to be higher when recipients are paired within the same ethnic or racial group.
Still, it helps everyone who’s waiting for an organ transplant if there are large numbers of donors from their racial and ethnic background. The same blood types and tissue markers — which are vital qualities for matching donors and recipients — are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity. The more diverse donors are, the better chance all people have for transplantation.
Though the same blood types and tissue markers — which are vital qualities for matching donors and recipients — are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity, people of all races and ethnicities are encouraged to donate because every organ can save a life.
"Organs are not matched based on race or ethnicity. People of different races and ethnicities frequently match one another. However, recipients of all races will have a better chance of receiving one if there are large numbers of donors from their racial/ethnic background," says Dr. Vadivel.
"This is particularly true for potential bone marrow transplant recipients and kidney or pancreas transplant recipients because of exceptionally high antibodies against many potential donors, which make these transplant matches a lot harder," he notes.
Misconceptions around organ donations
Many cultures have certain taboos and cultural barriers when it comes to organ donations. It’s important to understand and respect them, while at the same time seeking to engage communities to learn more about the positive impact organ donations can make.
For instance, Buddhists believe that once a person dies, they will have a second life only if that person has done good things and dies with the body intact — every part in place. Another common belief in the Chinese culture is that death only becomes final once the person stops breathing and the heart stops beating. So, ventilation, life supports and brain death are not easily accepted.
Black people make up 28.7% of the total candidates who are now waiting for transplants, yet they made up just 12.5% of organ donors in 2019.
Black and Hispanic communities often report that they don’t trust certain medical authorities and therefore don’t want to register as organ donors. This fact becomes more pointed when looking at the numbers. For instance, Black people make up 28.7% of the total candidates who are now waiting for transplants, yet they made up just 12.5% of organ donors in 2019.
Communication can change views about donation
Respect and compassion must guide communication with those who may be opposed to organ donations because of their taboos. When people can educate, engage, have family discussions and build awareness about its benefits, strides can be made. Older perspectives about donation can be gently challenged and ultimately lead to change.
"At Swedish, we're working to overcome these barriers by improving public awareness through education, including living donor seminars. We have done many seminars in Seattle, Eastern Washington, Idaho and in Alaska, which is home to 20% of our kidney transplant recipients at Swedish. We invite prior living kidney donors to share their donation stories in those seminars. We have also conducted talks on living kidney organ donation at African American church and Rotary clubs," says Dr. Vadivel.
"We strive hard to help potential living donors to overcome financial barriers for organ donation. For qualified candidates, we offer guidance for National Living Donor Assistance Center fund grant application or use foundation funds to ease their financial burden, including covering travel costs, helping offset food/lodging/gas costs with gift cards, having direct contracts with hotels, and having them provide a discounted rate to transplant patients," he adds.
What you can do to build awareness
Read more about organ donation then think about doing the following to support Minority Donor Awareness Month:
- Join a fundraiser in your community.
- Create an event through your workplace.
- Learn about different types of donations and share what you’ve learned with family members and friends.
- Become an organ donor yourself and share the news with others.
- Share your success story as a donor or recipient.
- Post your story or inspiring message on social media using #MinorityDonorAwarenessMonth
If you decide to register as a donor, tell your loved ones. It can provide comfort to surviving family members if they know in advance that you’ve decided to make your life a gift to others. At the same time, you may serve to knock down barriers that are keeping others from becoming donation heroes like you. For more information, please email livingdonor@Swedish.org.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.
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