By Tony Jones
Today in the U.S., it is estimated that over 100,000 people have sickle cell disease – most are of African descent. Meosha Hudson, the Red Cross of the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region’s Regional Diversity Account Manager, is leading an initiative to educate communities of color about the importance of donating blood.
“Our blood matters specifically to patients that rely on monthly blood transfusions to help manage their disease. Those are the patients battling sickle cell disease,” Meosha told attendees during the virtual convention of the NAACP Maryland State Conference.
The American Red Cross launched its sickle cell initiative in 2021 empower the Black community to donate and host blood drives, to close the gap between the needs of those with sickle cell disease and other patients, and the current number of individuals who are Black that give blood.
Meosha says while African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, Black donors make up less ½ of one percent of blood donors. 51 percent of African American individuals are type O compared to 45 percent of White individuals. Type O blood is most often needed by hospitals to help patients and therefore, Black donors play a critical role in meeting the constant need for blood – including patients fighting sickle cell disease.
Meosha explains Baltimore, Maryland has the second highest case count of sickle cell disease in the country. But reaching members of the community with that compelling message is challenging due to stigma and misinformation.
“Much of the reason why African Americans don’t contribute blood has to do with historical trauma, the effects of the pandemic and simply not understanding how impactful their donations are to the community at large.”
In April, the Red Cross expanded its testing to include sickle cell trait screening on all donations from self-identified African American donors. This additional screening helps the Red Cross identify compatible blood types more quickly to help sickle cell patients and provides our Black donors an additional health insight during a time when health information has never been more important.
Meosha says outreach is critical and partnering with groups, like the NAACP Maryland State Convention about the importance of blood donations and its impact on fighting sickle cell disease, can have a major impact. NAACP Maryland State Conference president Willie Flowers says his organization is ready to roll its sleeves and spread the message.
“Because of our tradition in the community and grassroots connection we can assist with education on the front end and the drive for the urgent need particularly when it comes to sickle cell which is specific to the African American community.”
To learn more about donating blood visit RedCrossBlood.org, download the Blood Donor App or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.