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

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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