Bone Marrow Scarcity in the Black Community

Every 4 minutes someone in America is diagnosed with some type of blood cancer. This year more than 10,000 blood cancer patients are looking for a lifesaving donation. Unfortunately, many will not find a match.  Often bone marrow transplants are the lone cure for blood-related cancers. However, this treatment is reliant on the patient locating a donor who shares a compatible genetic makeup. In most cases, that means the match is found in someone of the same ethnicity. However, within the black community it is particularly difficult to attract donors.

Do you constantly ask yourself how can I make a difference, but remain unaware as to how to go about it? You may hold the cure for a patient in need and it is in your DNA. All it takes is a simple swab of the cheek.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, the odds of a black patient finding a match in comparison to their white counterparts are very slim.  The likelihood of an African-American having a donor who is willing and able to save a life is 66%. The term willing and able is used just to explain that there are some donors that may not be able to donate after they are examined because of health reasons or those that later change their minds.

SHANON S.H.A.R.E., a foundation named after Shannon Tavarez, an American child actress who played Simba’s girlfriend Nyla in the Broadway theater production of Lion King, sadly lost her battle with leukemia in November 2010. The mission of the Foundation is to create new ways to address the dire need for minority donors. Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications, Nahdi Mukomona-Brown, says there are a myriad of explanations as to why there is a shortage of donors within all minority communities.

“Many minority groups aren’t even aware that there is an issue. Although there is federal money allocated to groups to recruit minority donors, many of these groups have not changed the way in which they reach out to these communities and therefore many of the people that they need to reach remain untouched. In addition, many believe that a bone marrow transplant is some horrific procedure,” said Brown.

Doctors choose registry members between 18 and 44 more than 90 percent of the time. Research shows that cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants

There are a plethora of places and public figures in the community that young professionals can contact in order create awareness and educate possible future patrons.

Brown says the Foundation has already reached out to historically black colleges and universities to get students involved in the fight.

“The idea that these students are young and will be in the registry for many years is very important. These young people also have access to social media and can help in spreading the word and knowledge to their generation,” said Brown.

Other great ways would be contacting community leaders and business leaders and inform them about the challenges we are having. Speak at your church and host a bone marrow drive after the service. Come up with fresh innovative ideas to spread the word and get friends and associates involved in this fight.

– Sophia Brewer


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