Blood Banks Must Recruit Immigrant Donors To Address Potential Supply Imbalance
A potentially dangerous imbalance in the blood supply could deplete available stock of O-positive blood.
It is linked to a variance between the number of Type O donations and the increasing number of transfusions, primarily within Hispanic populations, which are predominantly O-positive. The concern was discussed in a recent summit for blood and cellular therapy executives sponsored by Mediware Information Systems (Nasdaq: MEDW).
"There is a significant imbalance between Type O-positive patients and donors, especially in Texas, California and other states with large Hispanic populations," said Alexander Indrikovs, MD, associate professor of pathology and clinical laboratory sciences, University of Texas Medical Branch. "For example, seventy-one percent of blood donors at a large collection center in Mexico City have Type O-positive blood, compared to 47 percent of Caucasians. As a result, there is increasing pressure on the supplies of O-positive blood because the donor rate among Hispanics is very low," he told the Mediware summit. Participants, including executives from Johns Hopkins, Georgetown University, New York University, the University of California, and other prestigious institutions, responded to the call by discussing methods to increase donor recruitment efforts among Hispanics to address the imbalance.
With all the heated debate about immigration policy in the US, little attention has been given to community related issues, such as the blood supply, that arise from increasing numbers of immigrants. Indrikovs described the distribution of blood types among Latin American immigrants and how the need for a broader, more representative donor base increases as the nation's population mix changes.
A key concern for blood banks nationwide is the diversity of blood donors isn't representative of the consuming population. The Red Cross has estimated more than 80 percent of donated units come from Caucasians, while transfusions performed represent the broader population of the United States.
"In the event of a disaster or major health crisis, most care facilities employ a single blood type response -- Type O -- to treat the critically injured masses," said John Damgaard, vice president and general manager of Mediware's Blood Management Division. "An increasing depletion of O in the blood supply would have a significant impact on all of healthcare. As an industry, we must acknowledge and address this trend to ensure that our supply capabilities match all potential needs."
Mediware has been a leader of blood management information systems for more than 25 years and has products supporting both donor and transfusion services. LifeTrak(R), Mediware's blood center management product, is licensed for use at more than 65 facilities in the United States. Mediware's transfusion management system, HCLL, has been licensed by more than 300 facilities worldwide in less than four years since its commercial introduction.
Indrikovs urged the group to devote more attention to recruiting donors among immigrant populations, especially those from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
"Blood organizations must adopt culturally sensitive recruiting practices and employ bilingual staff to help change the genetic diversity of their donor base," Indrikovs advised. "Part of the challenge involves overcoming cultural taboos and misperceptions about donating blood and educating their communities."
Efforts to recruit younger Hispanic immigrants into the donor ranks are complicated, according to Indrikovs, due to high deferral rates from possible exposure to malaria and Chagas disease, body piercing and tattoos. He also said there are cultural misperceptions that must be overcome before donation rates will increase. For example, many in the Hispanic community believe blood should only be given in the event of a family emergency.
Indrikovs urged blood centers to partner with cultural and religious organizations within their communities to develop outreach programs and educational initiatives to inform and motivate Hispanic immigrants to donate blood. "As Hispanics consume more and more type O-positive units, the only way to avert a dangerous shortage is to significantly increase the donor pool in this population."
Indrikovs is gathering information from other blood services in Latin America and is preparing a study on the subject for publication.