YORK, Pa. — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every 365 African Americans will be diagnosed with sickle cell disease or have a sickle cell trait.
Sickle cell disease is an evolutionary trait that prevents malaria but also stops blow flow and oxygen to organs. The disease is treated through routine blood transfusions.
“With the pandemic, we’ve seen a decrease in donations in general, so it’s just across the board and this has hit this area specifically because we were short beforehand,” said Jacob Gildea, M.D., a blood bank director at UPMC.
A study by America’s Blood Center showed only 3% of the U.S. population donates blood regularly. The American Red Cross is not only calling on more people to donate but specifically diverse donors.
African Americans and Latinos have specific markers in their red blood cells and are free of specific antigens. This makes a possible match for a patient with sickle cell disease because the blood that is transfused is potentially the same makeup of the sickle cell patient's uninfected blood.
“So patients that get chronically transfused will need to have blood that’s similar to theirs so they don’t develop these alloantibodies,” said Gildea.
Proper blood type pairing is done before a transfusion is made, but officials say they need more people of ethnic backgrounds to become donors.
“We do have a big focus here at the Red Cross of helping sickle cell patients, and more often than not, the blood that can help them through transfusion—that critical treatment—comes from other diverse donors,” said Lisa Landis, communications and marketing director with American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania.
Currently, there is no cure for sickle cell disease, but when diagnosed, routine treatment and transfusions are usually executed. Red Cross officials say the lack of donors is creating a dire need, and they need the supply to save and maintain lives.
“We’re asking folks here and now directly, we need you and it’s an hour of your time to help change and save others' lives,” said Landis.