'Where are all the black stem cell donors?', ask charities and celebrities

Published: Monday, February 16, 2015 7:28 AM
From left to Right David Harewood, Daniel De Gale and Anderson Hall From left to Right David Harewood, Daniel De Gale and Anderson Hall

New research sheds light on why black people may be reluctant to come forward as bone marrow or stem cell donors

There are now 30 times more white people than African-Caribbean people on the bone marrow register, blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan has revealed today [1]. This is causing black people with leukaemia to miss out on their only chance of survival, as only 20 per cent of them will find a perfect match.

Today, new research suggests the lack of black people who are willing to donate their stem cells (or bone marrow) may be due to poor awareness, combined with the integral role that family networks play within African-Caribbean cultures, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by Anthony Nolan.

The charity is today launching a campaign together with the African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT) to boost the numbers of black donors, backed by celebrities including David Harewood MBE, Richard Blackwood and Wretch 32.

#BeingAfricanCaribbean – join our campaign to save lives

#BeingAfricanCaribbean – join our campaign to save lives - courtesy of YouTube.com

Only 1 in 3 would be supportive if a young family member donated stem cells

The survey of 4,600 people revealed that just over one in three black respondents (37%) would be supportive if a young family member (16-21) wanted to donate stem cells, compared to nearly two-thirds (64%) of the overall sample. [2]

Over a third of black people surveyed (35%) felt that donating for 16-17 year olds should require parental permission and nearly one in four (24%) felt that people aged 16-21 are too young to make this decision alone – again, higher than average and other ethnic groups. [3]

Nearly one in ten black respondents (8%) said their family wouldn’t approve of donating stem cells – compared to just 1% of the total population [4], and 12% of black people also viewed donating stem cells as a ‘dangerous activity’, the highest of any ethnicity.

Currently, there are around 550,000 people on the Anthony Nolan register but only 2.8% of these people are African-Caribbean.

‘I got a mixed reaction – people kept telling me not to do it’

Anderson Hall, 40, from Luton, was faced with misconceptions and distrust within his community, when he told people he was donating his stem cells to save the life of a child overseas after signing up at an ACLT donor drive.

“When I told people in my community what I was doing, I found that a lot of people didn’t know anything about it and they were very apprehensive,” said Anderson, who donated stem cells in December 2013. “I definitively got a mixed reaction, particularly from the older generation - but there was also a lack of knowledge even in the younger generation, which surprised me. People kept telling me not to do it or to not get involved with these things. They were worried about the kind of side effects it could have and how it could have a detrimental effect on my health.

“But for me it was just an amazing experience and a privilege to have a chance to change someone’s destiny and give a family hope.”

‘Being a match felt like winning the lottery’ – David Harewood

Hollywood actor David Harewood MBE, who has donated stem cells himself after joining the Anthony Nolan register via an ACLT donor drive at the Notting Hill Carnival, said: “The call to say I was a match came completely out of the blue, I felt like I had won the lottery and I immediately wanted to do whatever I could to help. It gives you an incredible sense of achievement to know that you have stepped up and potentially saved a life.”

Reflecting on the shortage of African-Caribbean donors, David said: “It’s horrible to think that if my daughters needed a transplant they would be at a disadvantage because there aren’t enough black and mixed race donors on the register. Woe betide that should happen to you, that you should find yourself waiting for that one person who could save your child’s life but who thinks it is somebody else’s job. That’s why we need people to take responsibility and think, I could be that person who saves a life.”

Richard Blackwood, who is joining Eastenders next month and rapper Wretch 32 have also lent their voices to the campaign in a new video at anthonynolan.org/african-caribbean

‘Black people are dying – not because their donor isn’t out there, but because that person never joined the register’

Overall, black people are around three times less likely than white people to find a donor who is a perfect match.Ann O’Leary from Anthony Nolan has warned of the life-threatening inequalities faced by black people waiting for a donor.

“It is heartbreaking that African-Caribbean people may be literally dying, not because a matching donor for them isn’t out there somewhere – but because that person never joined the register,” said Ann.

“The closer the tissue match, the better the chances for the patient, and you’re most likely to find your match from someone in the same ethnic group. Because there are tens of thousands of different tissue types out there, it means the odds are stacked against you if you’re African-Caribbean, as the pool of potential donors is so much smaller.

“We have a vital job to do – we must grow and diversify the bone marrow register. People’s lives depend on it.”

To join the register you must be between 16 and 30, and you will remain on the register until you are 60.

Info: Join us on Saturday 14 March for our registration drive with Global Radio and Capital Xtra. Come down, sign up, and spread the word – you could save a life. 12pm – 6pm, 30 Leicester Square London WC2H 7LA

For more information about the ‘Being African-Caribbean’ campaign and to join the Anthony Nolan register go to anthonynolan.org/african-caribbean. For more information about ACLT, go to aclt.org

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