Boost for BME organ donation

Organ donation by black people is very low but they are more likely than others to need kidney transplants, reports Kevin Gopal

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A campaign is underway in Newcastle to break down cultural taboos that have resulted in a shortage of organ donations from black communities.

Only one per cent of black people in Britain are signed up to the NHS Donor Register – but, due to increased rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, they are three to four times more likely than the general population to need a kidney transplant.

Those on the growing waiting list need to find a donor from their own ethnicity to stand the best chance of a successful transplant. Donated organs need to be carefully matched to the recipient to ensure blood and tissue groups are compatible.


But cultural taboos and misunderstandings about organ donation, and the experiences of those from countries where there is an illegal trade in organs, have deterred many from joining the organ donation register.

Sirak Hagos of the Tyne and Wear Eritrean Community Association suggested a series of awareness raising events to tackle the problem.

The association has now worked with Newcastle Science City – which promotes science in the region – and the NHS Blood and Transplant Team to design workshops for black communities that are already having an impact. More than 50 per cent of attendees said they would seriously consider joining the register.

Lack of education

Hagos said: “These taboos and misunderstandings are not based in religion – they are cultural issues coming from a lack of education and we are lucky that we can change this.

“Some had never heard of the term ‘organ donation’ and we even had trouble translating it. Many people did not even know it was scientifically possible.

“Others had very real experiences of living in countries where there was a threat of organs being sold and traded. We had a huge job in these cases to convince them that this country is different. Now they understand that we have the opportunity to save lives.”

Photo: Hagos (second from back) with other supporters of the initiative to increase organ donations among black people

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