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Afrika Green, from Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives, explains the importance of BAME blood donors

ITV2 and NHS Blood and Transplant have re-launched the ‘Blood Squad’ advert campaign aimed at Black and Ethnic Minority donors and donors who have recovered from Covid-19.

A research trial is under way focusing on blood plasma donation from individuals recovering from Covid-19 to see if the antibodies in their blood plasma could help stop the spread of the virus in someone else.

There is also an increase in demand for rare blood types such as Ro, a subtype 10 times more likely to be found amongst people of Black heritage and vital for treating Sickle Cell, a group of hereditary blood disorders.

Donating blood and plasma is more important than ever (44370570)
Donating blood and plasma is more important than ever (44370570)

There are five common variants of the disease, Sickle Cell Anaemia being the most serious. People with Sickle Cell have sickle (or half-moon) shaped red blood cells that can’t pass freely through small blood vessels, causing blockages and preventing oxygen from reaching vital organs. This can cause excruciating pain, known as a Sickle Cell crisis, anaemia, and organ damage.

Treatment of Sickle Cell mostly focuses on the prevention and treatment of complications, which usually involves regular antibiotics to ward off infections, and for many, regular blood transfusions. This can be a simple top up for anaemia, or for more severe cases, a procedure called ‘exchange blood transfusion’ where two-thirds of Sickle Cell blood is replaced with healthy blood cells from a donor. That’s about six pints in total. It’s a very invasive procedure that the patient often has to undergo every six to eight weeks.

While there has been a 29 per cent increase in the number of black people giving blood in the last three years, NHS Give Blood says: “We need people from all communities to give blood to make sure there’s the right blood available for everyone.”

BSE4BL (44370572)
BSE4BL (44370572)

They still need 40,000 new black donors over the next three years as the urgent shortage remains. There are currently 12,633 black and mixed black donors, who make up around 1.5 per cent of the donor base.

Research conducted by ESRO back in 2015 for the NHS Blood and Transplant revealed some of the current donation barriers amongst the BAME community. These include a lack of awareness in the importance of BAME blood donors; a lack of trust in state systems, including the NHS; fears and concerns around blood donation, such as a fear of needles and pain which raised fears around vaccinations and blood tests.

The Sickle Cell Society, the UK’s only national charity supporting people with sickle cell, runs specific projects designed to address some of these concerns and encourage more black-heritage people to donate.

Tracy Williams, project manager for blood donation says: “Over the past two years we have spoken with over 5,000 people on this topic, demystifying the blood donation process, explaining the facts and figure involved and signing up new donors to the register.”

Blood donation is quick, easy, and NHS Blood assures they are taking measures to ensure donations remain safe and secure during Covid restrictions.

If you would like to sign up, please visitbit.ly/scsgiveblood

This link allows the Sickle Cell Society to help evidence their contribution to articles such as this and can be used as evidence for future funding applications. All who register will be redirected back to NHS Blood and Transplant.

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