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Health, Science & Tech

Racial Diversity the Goal of Red Cross Blood Donations in February

The American Red Cross Blood Services provides about 40 percent of the blood used in transfusions across the country. In honor of Black History Month, the organization is urging people of all ethnic groups to donate blood.

“Blood from a donor with a similar ethnic background as that of the patient is less likely to cause complications, particularly for patients whose chronic conditions require repeated transfusions,” said Marianne Spampinato, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region.

There are the main blood types that many are familiar with, but Spampinato said there are also subgroups within those.

“Therefore it’s essential that the donor diversity match the patient diversity,” she said, “for example U- and Duffy- blood types are unique to the African American community, so Sickle Cell patients with these blood types must rely on donors with matching blood types in the African American community.”

The focus on minorities is being done in honor of Dr. Charles Drew, an African-American surgeon who was the first medical director of the American Red Cross and a modern blood-banking pioneer. It’s estimated that some 40 percent of people are able to donate blood, but only a small number of them do, according to Spampinato, who added that donors of all groups are needed to maintain a diverse and efficient blood supply.

“Especially types O-, A- and B-,” she said, “O- is the universal blood type for red cell transfusion which is the most common type of transfusion. In an emergency it can be transfused to anybody until their red cell type is known.”

Anyone who has cold or flu symptoms is not eligible to give blood; a full eligibility list can be found online and Spampinato said it may surprise some people who previously thought they couldn’t donate blood.

“Diabetics may be able to give,” she said, “you can give if you have certain conditions, if you have high blood pressure or are in treatment for that, even people who have had a history of cancer, meaning a tumor, and have been in remission for a year or more may be able to give.”

Blood donations can be made by appointment, or you can find drives via a Red Cross App for Android and Apple. There will be numerous drives around the region through February including one at the University of Pittsburgh February 9.