I have a confession to make: I’ve never donated blood. I walked by dozens of blood drives in high school and college because I was afraid I’d pass out. But recently, I found out that as a Black woman, my blood donation is needed more than I thought. On Nov. 7, @GiveBloodNHS, the official Twitter account for a blood service in England, explained why they need more Black blood donors in a low key hilarious viral thread. The organization also clapped back at trolls who were calling it racist for requesting blood from Black donors.
So why would a blood service need blood specifically from Black people? We may have different skin tones, but we all bleed red, right? Well, not exactly. Blood serves the same function in everybody, but the makeup of a person’s blood can vary drastically from the next person, and folks in the same ethnic group tend to have similar blood.
Donated blood is often used in blood transfusions, and for transfusions to work, the new blood and the old blood needs to match as best as possible. According to @GiveBloodNHS, Black people are more likely to have a rare blood subgroup called Ro. Ten times more likely than white people, in fact. Ro is used in the management of sickle cell disease, a blood disorder most common in Black people. Folks with sickle cell are at risk for stroke and infections, and they need regular blood transfusions that replace their deformed blood with healthy blood.
According to NHS Blood and Transplant, only 1 percent of blood donations in England come from Black people. This means Black folks who need a blood transfusion are less likely to have a successful match. The more unsuccessful matches a patient has, the more likely their body will develop a resistance to transfusions, meaning this procedure won’t work.
@GiveBloodNHS encourages everyone, but especially Black people, to give blood because blood donations can save lives. Bone marrow donations are also important in treating blood disorders and saving lives. These donations need to be more diverse as well. DKMS is an international nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and blood disorders by creating awareness and recruiting bone marrow donors to provide a second chance at life.
An American is diagnosed with blood cancer every 3 minutes, and unfortunately, every 9 minutes, an American loses their life to blood cancer. Diverse donations can help increase the survival rate for blood cancer. Only 6 percent of bone marrow donors are Black, and 11 percent are Latinx. It’s important to donate even if you don’t have a personal connection to the issue: For those who need a bone marrow donation, 70 percent of patients do not find a matching donor within their family.
Tamara, a bone marrow donor, talks to DKMS about the importance of blood marrow donation: “Young people are often the best donors for patients fighting blood cancer. Instead of talking about change and waiting around for help, we can make a real difference.” Her donation of bone marrow goes to folks like Quiana Parks, a DKMS Ambassador and DJ who is now a 10 year survivor of blood cancer.
Signing up for medical registries can ensure that people who need lifesaving treatments get them in a timely manner. Often times, you don’t know what people in your social circle and community need. A co-worker or classmate isn't going to ask you for your blood, even if they need it — but you can pay it forward by registering as a donor or by donating blood. These registries are easy to navigate, and they’re anonymous. You probably don’t think about your blood or bone marrow often, but they can be lifesavers for folks who really need transfusions.