By Tom Huskerson –Blackdoctor.org
Blacks are the largest minority group in need of organ transplants according to the latest organ donor statistics. According to Organdonor.gov, 30 percent of people currently waiting for an organ donation are African American. We make up 34 percent of the people waiting for a kidney transplant and 25 percent of those waiting for a heart.
The Organdonor.gov website points out that organs are not matched according to race or ethnicity. People of different races can and do match one another. But minorities have a better chance of a receiving the needed organ with a larger pool of organ donors from their racial or ethnic background. Medical experts say that the matching blood types and tissue markers are more likely found among members of the same ethnicity. These qualities are critical for donor/recipient matching.
The need for organ donors is great in our community but Black people tend not to be organ donors. Why?
African-Americans seem to be caught a Catch-22 situation. Blacks suffer more from the illnesses that cause organ failure and likewise, aren’t prime candidates for donation. A 2014 study from the American Society of Nephrology revealed that preventable health conditions among Black people, and Americans in general, prohibit organ donations. These include obesity, alcoholism, diabetes, skin cancer, high blood pressure, HIV and coronary artery disease.
Another reason that many Black people shun organ donations is the idea that organ donors do not receive proper care. Black people believe that medical professionals are eager to harvest their organs after death resulting in subpar care. This belief is rooted in past experiences of Blacks with the medical community, most notably the Tuskegee experiment that purposely withheld care from Black men infected with syphilis.
Another barrier to living organ donation is economics. Donating an organ costs between $5,000 and $20,000 dollars and weeks of missed work. Few Americans, especially African-Americans, could afford this expense without insurance. Insurance companies considered organ donations to be a pre-existing condition and would not cover the follow up care patients needed. This changed after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
There are efforts and programs intended to increase awareness of need for Black organ donors. August 1-7 is National Minority Donor Awareness Week. This program is directed at minorities to increase awareness of the need for more organ, eye, and tissue donors. It has been observed for over 18 years and is focused on increasing the number of minorities registered as organ donors. It also encourages better health among minorities to reduce the need for organ transplants.