April is National Minority Health Month — a time to raise awareness about health disparities that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority populations. It is also a time to encourage action through access to care, health education and control of disease complications through blood donation. The American Red Cross seeks to raise awareness and increase much-needed blood donations from diverse blood donors to support patients while providing vital health insights to presenting donors.
While environmental and systemic factors can play a major role in health inequities, lack of access to quality care is also a driving factor for underserved communities. In the U.S., it is estimated that over 100,000 people have sickle cell disease, the majority of whom are of African and Latin descent and may require blood transfusions throughout their lifetime. Sickle cell disease is a genetic red blood disorder that can cause acute anemia, tissue and organ damage, terrible pain and even strokes. Despite the discovery of sickle cell disease more than a century ago, there has been limited research and few treatments to help those currently suffering from sickle cell crisis, a troubling legacy of inequity for many diseases — especially those that primarily affect individuals who are Black. For many individuals suffering from sickle cell disease regular blood transfusions are a mainstay in their treatment.
Beta thalassemia major, or Cooley’s anemia, is another blood disorder that disproportionately affects people of Asian descent and is an inherited anemia that causes the body to produce less hemoglobin. Without blood transfusions, individuals with beta thalassemia can suffer from severe fatigue, weakness, paleness and slow growth. Having a diverse blood supply is one way to help ensure patients with sickle cell disease and thalassemia have ongoing access to the specific blood types they need.
Black Maternal Health Week is also this month, April 11-17. In honor of this week, the Red Cross is seeking to raise awareness about maternal health in the Black community and the impact of blood transfusions for mothers in crisis. In the U.S., women who are Black are more than three times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum year than women who are white. Women who are Black are also more likely to experience severe outcomes of postpartum hemorrhage, needing a blood transfusion.
Providing donors with health insights
All presenting blood donors receive a free mini-health screening with insights on pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin. The vitals are recorded in the donor’s online profile where they can track and monitor their results via the Red Cross Blood Donor App or at RedCrossBlood.org and share the results with their healthcare provider. The Red Cross is also providing free sickle cell trait screening on all donations from self-identified African American donors as part of its Sickle Cell Initiative. Donors can expect to receive results to their blood screenings within one to two weeks through the Red Cross Blood Donor App and the online donor portal.
The American Red Cross blood supply remains vulnerable and blood donations remain essential to the health of communities. Individuals of all blood types are urged to make an appointment now by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
As an extra thank-you during National Minority Health Month, those who come to give April 1-18 will receive a Red Cross T-shirt, while supplies last. Those who come to give blood April 19 - May 19 will receive a $10 e-gift card to a merchant of choice and be automatically entered to win a new travel trailer camper that sleeps eight, all courtesy of our partners at Suburban Propane. (Terms apply, see rcblood.org/camper.)