When National Minority Donor Awareness Day observes its 10th anniversary on Aug. 1, its original goal will be as critical as ever: to raise awareness about the desperate need for African American organ and tissue donors.
Between 1991 and May 2006 the number of African Americans on the U.S. transplant waiting list has increased 382 percent — from 6,598 to 25,177.
The shortage of donors in the African American community has reached critical proportions, according to Mary Jane Hunt, executive director of Oregon Donor Program, the nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington about the need for organ and tissue donors.
"Of the more than 92,000 men, women and children in the United States waiting for a life-saving transplant, 27 percent are African American. Yet they represent only 12 percent of all organ donors," Hunt said. "This is significant because transplant success rates increase with better genetic matches found within the same racial and ethnic group. So increasing the African American donor pool is absolutely essential to saving more lives."
In addition, diseases affecting certain organs are found more frequently in racial and ethnic minority populations. Currently, 23,003 African Americans are registered for a kidney transplant — 35 percent of all patients waiting for a kidney. Yet African Americans make up 14 percent of the U.S. population.
"The key is educating the community both about the donor shortage and how to become a donor" Hunt said. "Anyone can be a potential donor, regardless of age or medical history. A single donor can save and enhance the lives of 50 people."
Oregonians can become a donor by designating themselves a donor on their driver's license or by carrying an organ donor card, available on Oregon Donor Program's Web site, www.ordonorprogram.org, or call 1-800-452-1369.
"But the most important step," Hunt added, "is to talk with your family about your decision."
By providing current information on organ and tissue donation, Oregon Donor Program, a nonprofit organization, has been successfully advocating for improved donation laws, educating the public and raising the region's organ and tissue donation rate since 1975. Public education is crucial — every day, 18 people die waiting for an organ transplant, and over 92,000 men, women and children in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant. Roughly 2,000 of those individuals live in the Pacific Northwest.