Did you know that September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month? During this month, various stakeholders come together to share the stories of those affected by sickle cell disease, raise awareness of its impacts, and discover ways to advance research. One important issue to raise awareness about in regards to sickle cell disease is a need for more diverse blood donors.
According to an article in Medical XPress, only around 3% of the entire U.S. population donates blood each year. Fewer than 20% of those who donate are people of color or from diverse backgrounds. Diverse blood donors are urgently needed. This is because, in many cases, patients who require frequent blood transfusions need transfusions from people with similar racial or ethnic backgrounds.
Sickle cell disease (SCD) disproportionately affects people of African descent. An estimated 1 in every 365 Black children will be born with sickle cell disease, and an estimated 1 in every 13 will be born with sickle cell trait (SCT). The CDC explains that sickle cell disease is more common in people from areas of the world where malaria is/was common, as SCT is thought to protect against severe malaria infections.
Those with SCD often require frequent blood transfusions; blood donations can help them remain healthy throughout the year. However, given such a small percentage of diverse donors, those with conditions like SCD may sometimes have difficulty finding the right match for their needs. However, 1 in every 3 Black blood donors is a match for someone with SCD. Therefore, we need to drive home the importance of blood donations.
Doctors, as well as members of various patient organizations, urge those of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to consider giving blood and helping those in need. Through donating blood, you may be able to change a life.
About Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)
Sickle cell disease (SCD) refers to a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. Subtypes include sickle cell anemia. Normally, healthy, round red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. In SCD, genetic mutations cause the formation of malformed, sickle-shaped red blood cells. These malformed cells get caught along the wall of blood vessels. As these cells build up, they can cause blockages or restrict blood flow. Additionally, these blockages can cause pain. SCD may affect children or adults. Symptoms can (but do not always) include:
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes)
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Delayed growth
- Shortness of breath
- Pain crisis
- Organ damage
- Acute chest syndrome