Gina Yashere: minority blood and organ donors

Gina Yashere

Anyone who gives blood or becomes an organ donor makes an invaluable contribution to someone's life. But if you're an ethnic minority, your role is even more crucial.

This is because you're more likely to have the rare blood or tissue type needed to save someone’s life.

Comedian Gina Yashere is actively involved in promoting donation within ethnic communities. "There are a lot of black and Asian people out there who desperately need help, and they can’t get it from anyone else but their own communities. It’s something we’ve all got to consider, because we're the only ones who can help each other,” she explains. 

Gina is a proud donor herself. “Fortunately, I’ve not been directly affected by someone close to me needing a transplant, but I’ve donated blood.”

The lack of minority donors is not an individual problem. It's a situation that affects whole communities. Body tissues have racially specific characteristics, which means that transfusions and transplants are far more likely to be successful when the donor and recipient are of a similar ethnic background. If you're black, your best tissue match will usually be black. If you're Asian and need a transplant, you’ll probably need an Asian donor. There's such a shortage of minority donors that less than 1.5% of blood and organ donors are black or Asian.

This means that if you're black or Asian, your chances of finding an unrelated matched donor are lower than if you were white.

It's clear that the greatest demand comes from the communities with the lowest donation rates and the hardest tissue types to match. So why is there such an acute shortage of donors?

A recent study by NHS Blood and Transplant shows that many ethnic minorities believe that donating blood and organs is “something that white people do”. This perception is contributing to a dangerous shortage of minority donors.

"I can’t see what the big problem is about giving blood. It takes no time and there’s no real pain ... For that slight inconvenience of giving some blood you could be saving someone from dying"

If you're black or Asian, playing a part could be as simple as giving blood, as Gina has. “I can’t see what the big problem is about giving blood. It takes no time and there’s no real pain. I think we all need to get the information into our communities and show people that it’s not a major problem. For that slight inconvenience of coming forward and giving some blood, you could be saving someone from dying. You can’t argue with that.”

The process of giving blood takes less than an hour, is virtually painless and is entirely safe. You'd be giving less than a pint, which could save the lives of accident victims, people with blood conditions such as sickle cell, or those having vital operations.

By choosing to become a bone marrow donor, you may be helping to cure leukaemia or sickle cell in children. Bone marrow is the soft, jelly-like tissue found in the hollow centres of certain bones. It's the home of ‘stem cells’, which are the building blocks of blood. Bone marrow donation involves removing stem cells from the hip bone using a needle and a syringe under general anaesthetic. You would stay in hospital overnight and leave the next day, normally only feeling a slight soreness, which usually passes after a few days.

You can also donate stem cells from circulating blood. For four days before the donation, a nurse will inject the donor with a drug that vastly increases the number of stem cells in the donor’s circulating blood. The donor is then connected to a cell separator machine, without the need for general anaesthetic. This machine collects the stem cells from the blood and returns the blood to the body through a vein in the other arm.

Religious beliefs

Perhaps the biggest need is for more people from minority communities to offer their organs after death. Often religious or spiritual beliefs play a part in the decision not to donate. Gina says: “I think there's a fear of not knowing what happens to you after your death within the black community. It’s not so much about apathy but there's a little bit of fear involved. Because most people don’t know what will happen to them after they die, they worry about donating parts of their body.”

Organ donation is an individual choice. Many people choose not to donate, thinking that organ donation may be incompatible with their religious beliefs. In fact, all the major religions in the UK support some form of organ donation as they view it as an act of life-saving charity. Within individual religions there are different views on the nature of transplants, but you can ask a religious official for specific advice. 

The Organ Donation Directorate of NHS Blood and Transplant (Organ Donation) has produced a series of leaflets about religious perspectives on donation. They also run campaigns to raise awareness of the need for organ donors, including campaigns aimed at black and south Asian communities.  

You can help by creating a culture of donation. If you don’t give blood or join the NHS Organ Donor Register, consider it. If you do, that’s excellent, but try to encourage your friends and family to help, too.

Blood donation: Rudolph's story

Rudolph Isaacs has donated 41 pints of blood in 17 years. He explains why giving blood is important and how it is an easy way to help others.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

Page last reviewed: 16/04/2013

Next review due: 16/04/2015

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Sjcjohns said on 16 September 2014

Just thinking about it, so I wad no longer treated like a person but treated like the partner of an African who might have Aids. What if I was no longer with him. Would it be i cant donate from 12 months of being with him because then the decease would show up in my blood. I understand from the medical side of precaution but hiv is rife in Britain too and to think they wouldn't accept my doctors letter. The amount fo effort I am going to to do good. Think of the amount fo people thay lie there and dont disclose these things. It laughable that they promote wanting ethnic minority donors when they won't accept White British partners of them.

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Sjcjohns said on 16 September 2014

Went to donate, I am White British. I wad turned away due to the fact that my partner was born in Africa. We have been together 1 half years and both had checks that are clear. I explained I could bring the records to indicate this. They were refused. The only resolution I was given was if my partner could come and give blood to check his blood first and then depending upon this i might be able to donate. My partner has not been back to Africa in two years. I left without donating feeling terrible. I was so upset. I phoned the helpline as this just didn't feel right. It was confirmed this was correct information I had been told. I felt discriminated against for choosing to be with am african partner. I tried to explain but they check the blood and surely checking my blood would be the same as checking his however they would not consider this. The person at the helpline suggested he would call me.back with an appointment for myself and partner to go in and for him to give blood to get checked. With me being able to donate when he comes back clear ( What) I did receive a phone back telling me they couldn't arrange an appointment for me and we had to just drop in whenever with no rush. Not even needing to donate if i didn't want to basically. Even when we dropped in he said he couldn't guarantee we would be seen but if I got in touch with a nurse as soon as we got there and explained that my partner had come for a test. ( Effectively a HIV test) and then I may be able to donate too but he couldn't promise me if we could be seen. It is at the discretion of the nurse that's on. This is surely wrong. I wad recently considering organ donation too however I don't suppose that they will even want my organs now either due to the fact my boyfriend is African.

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maguser said on 14 May 2013

Ethnic minorities, particularly African's do not donate as they have been persuaded not to.

The National website for giving blood www.blood.co.uk says You should not give blood for 12 months after sex with: Anyone of any race who has been sexually active in parts of the world where AIDS/HIV is very common. This includes countries in Africa.

So if your married to a partner who has ever had sex in Africa, and you are currently sexually active you cannot give blood. Even though both partners do not have HIV.

I don't have the statistics but the fact that you are of African decent, means that it is likely that you or your parents emigrated from Africa. So the likely hood that you, or your partner, if also from Africa, has had sex in Africa would be high!

Therefore its likely that due to the regulations an African person would be less likely than a white person to find a blood donor. It's not because African's are selfish, or lack an understanding of the importance. Its the regulations of the organisation!!!!

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Nm penni said on 08 January 2012

Historically it is the lack of representation of ethnic minorities in advertisements and campaigns that has resulted in the lack of donors on the british organ donor register. Not the notion that it is "something white people do" as indicated in the artical above.

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