A call to save black lives through organ donation – Capitol Weekly | weekly capitol
Somone Washington was only 24 when he was diagnosed with end stage kidney failure. In 2010, she received the kidney that would save her life, joining just over 83,000 black Americans who have received transplants over the past decade.
Thirty thousand black Americans are still waiting for their lives to be saved through organ donation.
As we celebrate National Gift of Life Month in April, it’s a time to examine the health inequities and opportunities that exist in the organ transplant community.
Nationwide, more than 100,000 Americans are waiting for a heart, liver, lung, kidney or pancreas.
These same challenges that contribute to black organ failure have also resulted in a 15-30% decline in donation rates in non-white communities.
Nearly 60% of people awaiting a transplant are people of color, 29% of whom are black. With disproportionately higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, black Americans are almost four times more likely than white Americans to have kidney failure. Yet we are much less likely to be put on the transplant waiting list, as well as less likely to receive a life-saving transplant even once we are there.
More often than not, donors and recipients of the same ethnicity are more likely to be clinically compatible for transplant, so if there are fewer of us who are donors, that means fewer black recipients, which means that more of us will lose our lives because of it.
The causes of this disparity often trace back to challenges specific to non-white Americans: reduced access to medical care, barriers to health and nutrition information, historical distrust and mistreatment within the medical system, and “tampering”, a term sociologists use to describe the accelerating decline in health among black people.
These same challenges that contribute to black organ failure have also resulted in a 15-30% decline in donation rates in non-white communities. Closing this gap means saving black lives.
In 2020, only 13% of organ donors were black. Millions of families only consider organ donation at the worst time in their lives: the death of a loved one. This is why it is so important that those involved in organ donation work, including doctors, organ procurement organizations and transplant centers, continue to work to reach these families before the hospital .
There is still a lot of work to do. This work can and should begin in the community with simple relationship building.
Community-level work opens a two-way dialogue where leaders and families can discuss concerns with health professionals.
In California, as in much of the country, our community institutions and leaders are trusted by those around them. Building these relationships from the ground up is key – it’s the most effective way to combat mistrust, address misconceptions, and begin to create dialogue that can change systems that historically haven’t worked for our communities.
For example, in Southern California, the local organ procurement organization, OneLegacy, works with organizations such as California Black Health Network, which reach the community through health advocacy and academia. respectively, as well as with local churches, community clinics and similar organizations focused on the region. , to build trust, comfort and support around the idea of giving before a family sets foot in the hospital.
Organ donation can be done in two ways: 1) register at the donor’s pink point or 2) family authorization at the hospital.
Community-level work opens up a two-way dialogue where leaders and families can discuss concerns with healthcare professionals and begin to genuinely address some of the issues that have led to disparities.
Another essential part of this dialogue is to debunk some common, yet inaccurate, myths that create misconceptions about organ donation – and have led to a decline in registration and family permission.
For example, registering as a donor will not impact the hard work of doctors and nurses to save someone’s life in the hospital. Organ donation also has no impact on a family’s ability to hold a funeral and celebrate life as it should. Organ donation is also supported by all major religions. Finally, donors should know that organs are provided to those who need them most.
Waitlist position is never privileged or disadvantaged by race or wealth. In fact, 72% of transplants facilitated by OneLegacy are received by a person of color.
Fostering meaningful relationships with trusted community partners who can use their voice to dispel these myths makes all the difference.
Twenty years ago, non-white donation rates were just 25% regionally – today those rates are as high as 70%, far exceeding the national average of 53%. It’s still not enough.
We can make a difference as individuals and consider giving back and leaving a legacy as an organ donor to help someone in need whose life may depend on receiving a transplant. We can also make a difference by ensuring that racial equity is centered in all organ donation and health care policy decisions.
We must do our part to ensure that a patient’s ethnicity does not limit the possibility of prolonging and/or saving their life.
We speak directly to our community when we say you can make a difference. Black Americans are waiting for organs, and we can help bring those families back to life. A single donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation.
This National Gift of Life Month, speak to your friends, family and community. Signing up is simple, free, and the ultimate act of kindness. To learn more about organ donor registration for Black Americans, click here.
Editor’s note: Rhonda M. Smith is executive director of the California Black Health Network, which advocates for health equity for African Americans and black immigrants.