Canadian Blood Services is looking to increase its donor base among Black people.
While Canada’s Black population has increased over the years, the number of Black people who donate blood or are in the stem-cell registry has remained static.
“Overall, when we look across Canada, the number, the percentage of our entire donor base that comes from Black donors are around one per cent,” said Eloise Tan, the blood services’ director for diversity and inclusion.
“It’s obviously not where we want it to be, given the percentage of the Canadian population that identifies as Black, which is around four to five per cent. And it’s higher or lower, depending on where you are in the country.”
That is why Canadian Blood Services is working to recruit more Black donors.
“We are actively trying to diversify and grow our donor base. And particularly actively attempting to recruit and invite more people from Black communities to donate to Canadian Blood Services,” Tan said.
The need for Black donors is necessary because ethnicity and heritage matter in treating some illnesses and some rare blood diseases.
“It’s not enough to have white Canadians donate. Not having Black people donate is not good for us,” said Dr. Adetola Motunrayo, an Ottawa doctor and past-president of the Canadian Association of Nigerian Physicians and Dentists.
“We need to have more of our blood in that pool. The more we have blood representing us in there, the more we are likely to have a match so people don’t develop side-effects or antibodies.”
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Those side effects can range in severity, which is why finding the good match is important. According to Dr. Adetola finding that match for Black patients is easier when there are more donors of African descent.
“Although people who work with the Canadian Blood Services will continue to ensure that a patient gets the best match, it makes their job a lot easier when we have a wider pool of search,” Motunrayo said.
But recruiting Black donors is not always a matter of public outreach. Sometimes, for example, people of African descent get turned away because they have been to regions where malaria is endemic.
“Malaria is a blood-borne disease and it can live in your blood through parasites. It can stay there for a certain amount of time, Motunrayo said.
There is no licensed test in Canada or the U.S. to screen blood donors for malaria, which is why people who travel to regions where malaria is endemic should wait before donating blood.
“If your stay in a malaria-endemic region was less than six months, you will need to wait three months from the date you left a malaria-endemic region,” Tan said.
Motunrayo said those who stay six months or longer need to wait three years.
During that time, however, people are still able to donate plasma, which is used for manufacturing medications.
Tan said that even people who’ve had malaria can still sign up for the stem-cell registry. “For stem cell, the only eligibility that we ask is that you’re between 17 and 35. Diversity is just as important in stem cell as it is in whole blood as well.”
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