Héma-Québec is taking advantage of Black History Month to launch a call for blood donors from black communities. The organization has a growing need for black blood to increase its reserves and help provide treatment for patients with sickle cell anemia.
This disease is caused by an abnormality of red blood cells and affects, among others, black people. Despite advances, many taboos and huge restrictions still do not allow to reach enough black donors.
To help parents like Daniel Bonzil, Héma-Québec multiplies its calls to the black community year after year. The Outaouais representative of the Quebec Sickle Cell Disease Association explains that he himself has a 12-year-old child with the disease.
“My boy already has a blood transfusion,” says Bonzil. “There are children who need a lot more, there are children who need it many times a year.”
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic blood disorder characterized by a malformation of blood hemoglobin that mainly affects people from Africa, Haiti, the Middle East and India. The diseased red blood cells cause an obstruction of the blood circulation.
Each human has normal beta genes called A and abnormal type S. The gene pool is in duplicate in a combination that can be AA, AS or SS. Only SS individuals have the disease. And when two AS-type people mate, there is a one in four chance that their child will get Sickle Cell Disease.
In Canada, data on the disease are rare, but the Quebec Sickle Cell Disease Association estimates that one in ten black people are affected.
It is a chronic disease characterized by painful seizures. The patient then needs to renew his red blood cells regularly through blood transfusion.
Sickle cell anemia in numbers:
– One in ten black people have the sickle cell disease gene.
– One in every 400 children in the at-risk community is reached.
– When both parents have the trait of the disease, there is a 25% chance that the child will be sick.
– More than 300,000 children are born each year worldwide with this disease and 50% will not reach their fifth birthday in the absence of care from birth.
Source: Quebec Sickle Cell Anemia Association
Blood of black people
To relieve people suffering from sickle cell anemia, medicine uses the blood of people with a genetic background similar to that of the patient.
“With medical practice, it was found that donors and recipients, if they had a similar genetic background, transfusion reactions were lower, as in the case of anemia,” says the director of public relations for Héma-Québec, Laurent-Paul Ménard.
The blood of black people is essential to relieve patients, because “if what is given to them is not compatible, it creates in the individual antibodies, it is a complication that it causes from where the reason to want to give blood the most compatible possible, “adds Mr. Bonzil.
“Many people may think that the group is enough, I found another group O or group A donor and everything is fine, but that’s not the case. There must be markers in the blood and these markers must be similar between the person giving and the person receiving and there are many. People who have the same origin will have more similar markers and people who are from different communities will have many differences and it is not good to give blood at that time, “he says.
In recent years, Héma-Québec’s efforts to fetch blood from black people to prevent shortages have increased from 200 donors in 2010 to nearly 5,500 in the black community throughout the province … But there is still a lot to do.
Between myths and realities
However, the message is not yet sufficiently under the effect of many taboos, thinks Jean-Marie Mondésir, a member of the Black Community Council of Gatineau.
“In some religions, of course, voodoo, blood is sacrifice, blood is life, of course, but people are not educated enough to donate blood to someone. “Believes Mr. Mondesir.
According to Daniel Bonzil, people may have fears, such as becoming weak or getting sick if they donate blood.
But there is also the weight of prejudice that hinders the willingness of many members to donate blood.
“There are prejudices on both sides, that is to say [the belief that] people who come from Africa, they have diseases, things like that,” laments Jean-Marie Mondésir.
Héma-Québec and Canadian Blood Services have placed restrictions on potential donors who have traveled to certain countries, particularly those in Africa, which is interpreted as a huge blocking factor.
“This is a reality, hence the importance of passing the message and saying [that] if there are members of the community who have not traveled for a few months and are able to donate blood, it’s important to do so, “says Ménard.
For a long time, many black women have been stripped of blood donation due to insufficient amount of iron in their blood. A situation interpreted as a rejection, also recognizes Daniel Bonzil, of the Quebec Sickle Cell Disease Association.
Héma-Québec says it has broken this barrier by developing a program with Health Canada that encourages black women who have been sidelined for a long time because of the lack of iron in their blood to become donors. To date, more than 500 women from Black communities participate.
Information, the keystone
In Black communities, emphasis is placed on strengthening information and education for behavioral change and mobilizing more members of Black communities around blood donation.
The medical advisor in Gatineau, Christelle Aicha Kom Mogto, insists on “adapting the messages to respond to the concerns” of the communities.
“As far as malaria is concerned, I think there is some confusion that has taken hold. Some people may have been refused blood donors after a trip to Africa. Was the information complete? The refusal is not definitive. For stays of less than six months (the majority of stays), blood can be donated one year after the date of return to Canada, “she says.
According to her, “the black community should also seek the right information wherever it is, among health professionals, Héma-Québec, etc.” But for that, it is necessary that the donation of blood is really perceived as a necessity “.
We must educate, we must inculcate this notion, we must mobilize people. This is the work we are trying to do within the Black Community Council of Gatineau.
Jean-Marie Mondésir, member of the Black Community Council of Gatineau.
Awareness will especially have the advantage of breaking down existing myths, hopes Daniel Bonzil.
“Once we get rid of these myths or at least reduce them, I think we will have more donations of blood,” he says.