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June 19 is World Sickle Cell Awareness Day

By Shane Dorrill

It’s estimated that more than 100,000 people in the U.S have sickle cell disease, making it the most common genetic blood disease. The disease is an inherited blood disorder that causes red blood cells, which are normally round, to become sickle or crescent shaped. The abnormally shaped cells have trouble passing through small blood vessels, which can cause severe pain and lead to tissue and organ damage, anemia and even strokes. Most individuals who have sickle cell disease are of African or Latino descent with 8-10% of African Americans having the sickle cell trait.

Blood transfusions provide a lifesaving treatment for sickle cell patients by increasing the number of normal red blood cells in the body. A single sickle cell patient may require multiple blood transfusions per year throughout their lifetime to treat complications from the disease.

To help supply the needed blood for these patients, the American Red Cross has launched the “Closing the Sickle Cell Gap” initiative, which is meant to empower the Black community to help provide compatible blood products for patients with sickle cell disease.

Currently, Black donors make up less than 4% of all Red Cross blood donors. This makes it difficult to ensure the right blood product is available at the right time for patients, especially those with sickle cell disease.

Earlier this year, the Red Cross expanded its testing of blood, platelet and plasma donations from self-identified African American donors to include the sickle cell trait. This allows the Red Cross to identify compatible blood donations faster for those who need them, while providing our Black donors with the insight of whether they carry the trait. Donors receive results to their blood screenings within one to two weeks through the Red Cross Blood Donor App and the online donor portal.

To bring the “Closing the Sickle Cell Gap” initiative to life and make a meaningful difference for patients across the country, the Red Cross critically needs new and existing Black donors to give blood. Businesses and organizations within the Black community are also urged to host blood drives to help provide convenient locations for individuals to donate.

How Can You Help?

Schedule an appointment to give blood by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), or by enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo Device.

Recruit organizations that have diverse employees or members to host blood drives and support blood donation.

Set up a virtual blood drive on sleevesup.redcrossblood.org and encourage others to donate.

Educate and engage the people you know about the importance of blood donations.

Learn more at: RedCrossBlood.org/SickleCell

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