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Blood Donations: The Gift We take for Granted

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How has the pandemic affected the blood pool within the North America Region? Has the blood supply so needed by the racialized, Black and Asian Communities suffered?

Black and Racialized North Americans tend to die or have blood-related illnesses more often than White Folk. The exact cause is unknown, but it is likely a combination of genetics, behavior, and risk factors entering into it. Blacks tend to have smaller blood vessels, leading to heart-centered illnesses. Ethnic health issues are front and center, in front of our political and health officials these days.

Canada is facing a blood shortage, and 100,000 donors are required to maintain the nation’s blood supply. This is a challenge to accomplish in itself. There are racial communities that have particular needs not being serviced. For many of these people, there is a shortage of donations from their specific genetic community, causing a life-or-death situation.

“Most of the time, blood really never sees race,” says Madeline Verhovsek, a hematologist from St. Joseph’s healthcare in Hamilton. Matching blood transfusions between donors and recipients is usually an easy endeavor, but in some special cases, the blood types available are not sufficient. Sometimes a person with special unique medical conditions or complications may require extended matching, challenging the system’s blood pool. In some cases, people from specific ethnic communities are required to donate to their kin and community members.

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One such condition is sickle-cell anemia, which affects people living in malaria-prone areas of Sub-Sahara Africa and The Middle East Regions. Sickle Cell Anemia can require patients to experience up to 25 transfusions annually. While there are 4 main blood types (O, A/B, A, and B are antigens that sit upon red blood cells), there are other antigens contained in blood, and their genetic codes can vary. Blood from the black community is like gold to the Canadian Blood Services, mostly because of its rarity and availability. That is not to say that the black community does not donate blood, but rather that there are stumbling blocks placed before racialized community members. If you have had malaria, you are not allowed to donate in Canada. In America, those who have had malaria are not banned for life.

Margaret Media of Canadian Blood Services (director of philanthropy) said “Canadians must realize and acknowledge that some government policies are a hindrance to people donating their blood, marrow, and stem cells”.

Sikh Nation, a community-based organization, raises the Sikh Community into donating their blood. They want a safe supply, but also adequate supply, so when there is a need the supply is there. The ban that disallowed LGBTQ Community Members to donate has been re-imaged recently. Those communities with a historic rare blood record have been organizing community drives, as well as blood storage with the Canadian authority’s assistance and cooperation. Those that help themselves through organizing and determining action seem to achieve wonderful results. In our crazy energetic world, finding the time to donate is another problem. The Business World has often responded to this difficulty through employee-encouraged blood drives, paid wages while donating, and promoting blood donations. The blood agency and activist organizations pursue diligently those employed in super active jobs, such as truck drivers and seasonal workers to encourage and achieve blood donations.

Governmental action to lower the barriers to donating blood, especially within Black and African, and Asian populations seems to be achieving its necessary goals. The Indian community of Brampton has responded well to the presence of increased donation centers in Brampton. Sikh Canadian activists point out that blood donation is perfectly in line with Canadian – Sikh values, to save lives.

Sources…Canadian Blood Services, CBC, and Brampton Guardian.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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