Program Targets Black Churchgoers in St. Louis To Donate Blood
A program that targets predominantly black churches in St. Louis appears to have increased blood donations to help fight sickle cell disease, particularly from first-time donors, the AP/Columbia Missourian reports. Sickle cell disease, in which blood cells are abnormally shaped, affects one in 400 black infants and is the most common genetic disease among blacks.
Five years ago, Michael DeBaun, a sickle cell specialist at St. Louis Children's Hospital, created Sickle Cell Sabbath at 13 black churches in the area. Through the program, congregations learn about sickle cell disease and how blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants can help treat the disease. The program also encourages churches to sponsor blood drives.
Blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants replace sickle blood cells with healthy red blood cells. According to DeBaun, blood from black donors is more likely to be compatible with that of children with the disease.
Over the course of the program, nearly 700 people participated in blood drives affiliated with the program; 60% of those, or 422 people, were first-time donors, according to a study in the journal Transfusion.
Michael Johnson, a chaplain for Sickle Cell Sabbath, said that myths, fears and negative experiences with medical research have affected blacks' willingness to donate blood or organs. He said, "Most people at the churches didn't know the impact blood donorship has. Our education process increased the number of donors significantly. Once people understand the importance of giving blood, they become repeat donors" (Wittenauer, AP/Columbia Missourian, 12/18).
An abstract of the study is available online.