Racism in Healthcare: One simple thing you can do today as a person of color to help improve outcomes for others.

Trigger warning: this post contains mentions of racism and specifically racism in medicine and healthcare.

Did you know that white people are THREE TIMES more likely to find a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant than people of color?

There’s a huge database of bone marrow donors, but the vast majority of registrants are white people of European descent.  This is problematic and is just one of the many ways that systemic racism in America’s healthcare system impacts health outcomes for people of color.

But, we can help spread the word in communities of color to get more people registered! Joining the registry is free and easy, and getting more people of color to join can help improve outcomes for others. It’s vital that a bone marrow donor match the recipient as closely as possible, and having a donation from a person of the same race plays a large part in that.

I joined the registry several years ago, so I’m happy to share what it was like:

  1. You go to the Be a Match website to register and request a swab kit. It’s free for anyone under age 44. You’ll choose the option to have a swab kit mailed to you.
  2. You get it in the mail and swab your cheek, seal it up, and mail it back! Easy peasy.
  3. They’ll put your info into the registry, and if you are ever matched with someone you’ll be contacted. If you are matched with someone it’s because you are the closest genetic match in the entire registry and are their best hope of surviving their diagnosis.

While this won’t help end the systemic issues of racism in healthcare, it is one simple thing we can all do *today* to fight against it. Increasing the diversity of the donor registry will increase the chances that people of color find a match.  Go request your kit right now and please help spread the word about joining the registry by sharing this article or pinning the image.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend listening to this episode of the Code Switch Podcast, which follows the story of two friends who suffered from the same aggressive form of cancer, but had very different outcomes following their bone marrow transplants and explains how race played a role. The story, as reported by journalist Ibby Caputo about her personal experience, does a beautiful job of explaining the complexities of this issue and the lives it impacts.

Terika Haughton and Ibby Caputo

Below are a few additional FAQs that might help.

Who is eligible to join the registry?
You are eligible to join the registry if you are: between the ages of 18-60, live in the United States or Puerto Rico, meet health guidelines, and are willing to donate to any patient in need

If you are between the ages of 18-44, patients especially need you because research shows that cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants. To make the best use of our resources, individuals ages 45-60 are required to cover their own cost of joining ($100).

What’s it like to donate Bone Marrow?
Most people give through a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation. A machine draws blood from one arm, extracts the cells it needs and returns the remaining blood through your other arm.

Others give through a marrow donation. Liquid marrow is withdrawn from the back of your pelvic bone with a needle. In this case, you’ll receive anesthesia and feel no pain during the procedure.

The patient’s doctor decides which method is best for their patient.

Who knew saving a life could be so simple!

Racism in Healthcare: Join the Be A Match Registry and Help Improve Outcomes for People of Color

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