Delmarva blood supply needs more diversity

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/Delmarva Blood Bank
April Purnell is a blood donor for the Delmarva Blood Bank.

NEWARK, Delaware — Every day, more than 350 donors are needed in Delmarva to collect the blood and blood products required for patients in need of blood transfusions.

They include cancer, trauma, surgery, sickle cell patients and more. They rely on the kindness of blood donors to survive.

To ensure all patients can receive the blood they need, the blood supply needs more diversity amongst blood donors. Patients with conditions such as sickle cell, a blood disease that predominantly affects African Americans, require regular blood transfusions to treat their symptoms, and they typically receive better results from their treatment when the transfusions are received from a donor with the same ethnic background.

“We continue to see slow growth in the diversity of blood donors, especially among African Americans,” a statement from the Blood Bank said. “In Delaware, 23 percent of the population is African American, and in Maryland it is 30 percent. Currently, only 6.5 percent of our blood donors are African American. This trend is a concern because our goal is to ensure we can supply all patients with the blood and blood products that they need.”

Nationally, 51 percent of African Americans have either O positive or O negative blood, which are two of the most in-demand blood types by hospitals. With 37 percent of the U.S. population having O positive blood, it is the most common blood type and the most transfused.

Seven percent of the U.S. population has O negative blood, which is the universal red cell donor. Donations from O negative donors are critical to patients, especially during trauma, because O negative blood can be transfused to recipients of any blood type.

With such a high percentage of African Americans having type O blood, this group holds immense power to increase the diversity of the blood supply and allow more patients to receive treatment. “As we celebrate Black History Month, we encourage African Americans throughout the Delmarva community to consider becoming a blood donor,” the statement said.

Dr. Charles Drew, known as the father of blood banking, was the African American doctor who organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S., and the “Blood for Britain” effort created during World War II. Soon thereafter, he headed the American Red Cross’ blood banking efforts for the U.S. Military in 1941 as America found itself deep in the throes of the war.

Donors like Rasheeda Watson, who are O positive and African American, are ready to throw down the gauntlet when it comes to increasing minority donors. Rasheeda, a disabled veteran of the U.S. Army, donates at the Christiana, Delaware Donor Center every eight weeks.

“I always give blood. I think if I was in an emergency, I would want somebody to do that as well,” she said. “If I needed blood and didn’t get it, I would die. I wouldn’t want that for somebody else. Especially in my community, if they thought about it like that, they would give blood. That’s what you should do if you’re able to.”

Shalina Spurlock, an O positive platelet donor, agrees.
“There are higher incidences of ‘killer’ illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, sickle cell, etc., in people of color, but the donations are not [commensurate] from our community,” she said. “I believe more education could be a step toward changing those numbers in our schools, community centers, shelters, hospitals, houses of worship, et cetera.”

The Blood Bank’s leadership team is looking at outreach strategies to help increase the number of African-American donors. To donate, call 1-888-8-BLOOD-8 or visit www.delmarvablood.org.