Health: Black Churches Could Spell Relief for Sickle-Cell Patients

December 26th, 2008

Black churches could spell relief for sickle-cell patients. Black churches could be the most effective way to spark blood donations for children with sickle-cell disease, a new study shows. As it stands now, blood donations are only trickling in, but a program known as the Sickle Cell Sabbath Program, if sustained, has the potential to draw in substantially more donors, according to Dr. Michael R. DeBaun of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and his colleagues. “One in 400 African American newborns has sickle cell disease, in which the red blood cells take on a crescent form that makes it impossible for them to flow through the smallest blood vessels,” Reuters Health reports. The symptoms are pain, organ damage, infections and stroke. But victims can experience relief with monthly transfusions, as long as the donor is matched closely enough. While African American donors are more likely to have red blood cell types that are compatible with those of sickle cell patients, Blacks represent just 6.5 percent of all blood donors – compared to 13 percent of the general population, according to DeBaun. But during a church service about a decade ago, health workers presented a five-minute forum on sickle-cell disease and the importance of blood donation. Between 2003 and 2006, 13 African American churches participating in the program held a total of 34 blood drives. A total of 699 people donated blood, 60 percent of whom were first-time donors. Over the same time period, first-time donors accounted for just 12.2 percent of the blood donor pool for the entire St. Louis metropolitan area. “Despite the high proportion of first-time donors, the total number of donors is low when compared to congregation size,” DeBaun and his team write. However, they propose that continuing the Sickle Cell Sabbath Program could eventually bring in more blood donors from the African American community.

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