September is Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month, an annual event that should indeed be a time for African-Americans to acknowledge one of the most notorious illnesses in the community. According to the Centers for Disease Control, SCD affects 1 out of every 500 African-Americans born, and about 70,000 Americans are now living with the disease. It can also occur in Latinos, Middle Easterners and Asians, but it impacts the Black community far more than any of those other groups. And for the people it does afflict, sickle cell can be hellish.
Patients with SCD have red blood cells that deform into a sickle-like shape. Not only do these cells die earlier than a healthy person’s red blood cells, giving the patient anemia, their strange shape can cause them to get caught in blood vessels and block the blood flow, thus preventing the delivery of oxygen to the body’s tissue. If that happens, the result can be pain, organ failure or even stroke. The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America notes that people with SCD also tend to die earlier than others, generally in their mid-40s.
The good news is that some SCD symptoms can be managed with blood transfusions. The bad news is that African-Americans don’t donate nearly enough blood to help Sickle Cell patients in dire need. Blacks are more likely than whites and Latinos to have certain kinds of blood antigens, and thus African-American SCD patients are less likely to reject blood from other African-American donors. Unfortunately, less than 1 percent of the American medical community’s blood supply comes from Black donors. That’s been a problem many pro-blood donation campaigns directed at Black Americans have been trying to remedy, but the results have not been spectacular thus far.
There are a great many ways people try and improve the Black community, from giving money, to volunteering time at youth centers, to teaching Sunday school at church. Not that you shouldn’t do those things, but this month, consider donating blood to help your community. It doesn’t take long, and it barely hurts. And in the end you could be helping improve the life of someone in a lot of pain.
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