KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Building Diversity in Bone-Marrow Registries

Minorities have more difficulty finding a bone marrow transplant match because of a shortage of minority donors in the national registry, The Wall Street Journal reports. Bone marrow transplants can offer the chance of survival for patients with certain types of cancers and other illnesses, and "the best chance of a match is someone of their own race or ethnicity." There are around seven million people in the U.S. bone-marrow donor registry, but "less than half the 10,000 patients who needed a transplant last year were able to find a genetic match that led to a transplant." For white patients, the odds of finding a match are 88%. For minorities, the odds can be as low as 60%.

In response, the National Marrow Donor Program is "stepping up efforts to recruit donors from different ethnic backgrounds," including "spreading its message through social media Web sites like Facebook and MySpace." The revamped program, which "also aims to shatter some myths about bone-marrow donation, such as the fear that it will hurt the donor," is seeing positive results. Groups at Historically Black Colleges and Universities have conducted successful donor drives, and the program is "also working with Hispanic groups and Asian and Pacific Islander organizations, as well as with blood centers in states that have large Native American populations." Last year, the program "signed up 440,000 new donors, just under half of whom were from diverse racial and ethnic communities," and is also partnering with international registries and "signing cooperative agreements with countries like Brazil."

Studies indicate several reasons for a shortage of minority donors including "a lack of educational resources devoted to those communities, fear of doctors and hospitals, concern about putting personal information in a database, and cultural taboos about donating a physical part of oneself" (Landro, 5/27).

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