Minority Donor Awareness Day: Bone marrow registry needs diversity

July 31, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So

For many blood cancer patients, a bone marrow transplant may be their only hope of a cure. If they cannot find a match within their family, they will have to attempt to find an unrelated donor from the Be the Match registry. Unfortunately, due to their under-representation in the registry, minorities will have a tougher time finding a lifesaving match.

157254981 Joining the Be The Match registry is as simple as filling out a medical questionnaire and swabbing your cheeks.

According to Cheekswab, an organization that urges minority populations to become donors, minorities make up only 25 percent of the registry. As a result, whereas Caucasians have a 93 percent chance of finding a matching donor through Be The Match, minorities' likelihood is a considerably lower 66 to 73 percent.

These grim trends are seen in other donor registries, too. As a result, the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has designated Aug. 1 as National Minority Donor Awareness Day. The goal: "to educate individuals on the need for minority donors and the facts surrounding organ, blood and tissue donation."

Although the Be The Match registry currently has more than 9 million members, Jill Kendall-Erb, City of Hope's Be The Match program director, said more potential donors are needed to improve patients' chances of finding a match.

"There’s a great need for people who are of an ethnic or racial minority,” Kendall-Erb said, noting that patients are most likely to find a lifesaving match from donors of their own ethnic background.

The process to join Be The Match is quick, easy and painless. Simply sign up on the organization's website and fill out the application. Soon, you'll get a kit containing cotton swabs. Swipe the swabs against the insides of your cheeks, and mail them back to be tested and entered into the registry.

If you're identified as a potential donor, you will be contacted with further instructions for additional testing and coordinating a donation.

By making the registry more diverse, the ethnic disparity of finding a match will close and a minority donor awareness day may become a thing of the past.

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