Blood banks really, really want more black blood donors.
But is it racist to court one group of donors based on that group’s skin color?
If you ask Britain’s blood and transplant bank, the answer is an unequivocal no — and blood banks in the U.S. and around the world would likely tell you the same thing. The British blood service went on Twitter Monday to justify its push to get more black donors in a series of viral Tweets.
The British National Health Service’s blood and transplant arm explained that hospitals and doctors don’t care about your skin color. But what hospitals do care about is the type of blood running through your veins. And if you’re black, NHS says, you’re 10 times more likely than a white person to have a rare blood type that’s in particularly high demand.
That rare Ro subtype is particularly common in patients with sickle cell disease, a disease that, itself, is more common in the black community, according to NHS.
Sickle cell disease is a painful genetic blood disorder in which patients’ red blood cells are misshapen, making it harder for the cells to carry oxygen through the body, according to the National Institutes of Health. And many with the disease need blood transfusions to survive, according to the New York Blood Center.
But without enough blood of a matching type, NHS says, those transfusions aren’t possible — making donations from black donors that much more vital.
NHS also acknowledges that race and blood type aren’t inextricably tied: It’s entirely possible for a white or Asian donor to have the Ro blood type. It’s just a matter of odds that black donors are a better bet, NHS says.
The thread of Tweets started off by acknowledging that, at first glance, seeking blood donations from a particular race might appear, well, racist.
But not all blood is the same.
And race can have something to do with the likelihood someone is one type of blood or another.
With rare blood types, race can be a strong predictor.
But according to the American Red Cross, it’s not just the Ro blood type that makes black donors so important and potentially life-saving: 70 percent of African-Americans have O and B blood types, which the Red Cross says are the highest demand types.
And while that blood can end up benefiting patients of any race, given the higher incidence of sickle cell anemia among black Americans, it’s more likely to help black Americans than anyone else, according to the Red Cross.
The Red Cross reports that, in the U.S., only 1 percent of the black community donates blood. In the general population, 5 percent of those eligible in the U.S. are blood donors.
One reason black Americans are less likely to donate could be that some communities aren’t aware it’s an option.
Community health groups in the U.S. have gone out and asked those in black communities about why they might not donate. “What we were told is: ‘Nobody asked,’ ” Sadie Jordan, a community health worker in North Carolina, told WBTV in 2012.
That’s led health leaders to encourage black donors to get out and give blood.
On Twitter, it looks like it’s working.