New UK rules allow more black donors to donate blood for sickle cell disease – Sickle Cell News

Restrictions on blood donation in England which had prevented at least 12,000 black donors from donating blood were lifted by the country’s government late last year in what the Sickle Cell Society called a “historic change “.

Now, citing the UK’s ‘urgent need’ for blood donations from black donors – including today some black people previously turned away due to having African lineage partners – the Sickle Cell Society is working to raise awareness of changes to blood donation rules in England. .

To spread the word, the Society has partnered with other non-profit organizations and the National Health Service Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) in a social media campaign.

Key campaign target: the 1,300 black donors needed each month to donate blood for transfusions for patients with sickle cell disease (SCD), as well as childbirth, cancer treatment, surgeries, emergencies and other medical conditions.

“The importance of a readily available supply of ethnically-matched blood in treating people with sickle cell disease cannot be underestimated,” Tracy Williams, head of blood donation at the Sickle Cell Society, said in a press release. . “Blood from people of the same ethnic background is essential to keeping those most severely affected by sickle cell disease alive and healthy, allowing them to live fulfilling lives and pursue their goals.”

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The social media campaign, led by the Sickle Cell Society, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the African Caribbean Leukemia Trust and One Voice Network, aims to raise awareness of the significant rule changes passed in the UK last year that now make it easier the task of black donors. bring blood and plasma.

The English government has removed what was widely seen as a discriminatory restriction on blood donation which required a three-month deferral period for potential donors with partners who may have had sex in geographical areas where the virus is human immunodeficiency (HIV) or acquired immunodeficiency virus (AIDS) are common. According to the Sickle Cell Society, these areas include most of sub-Saharan Africa.

Now, all potential donors are instead asked the same general questions about recent sexual activity and are eligible to donate if the risks of HIV infection are deemed low.

Removing this previously mandatory question means more people, especially those of African descent or with black African partners, will be able to donate blood in the UK.

According to NHS Blood and Transplant, 12,000 people of black African descent had previously been ‘deferred’ and may now be eligible to donate blood. These potential donors have been notified by the NHSBT of the rule changes.

The awareness campaign will continue to inform members of black African communities of the new rules, in hopes of encouraging more blood donations.

“There is currently an urgent need for more black donors in the UK,” the Sickle Cell Society said, particularly to help patients with SCD.

In SCD, blood transfusions are used to provide patients with healthy red blood cells. These transfusions help alleviate anemia and prevent complications of the disease.

The best blood type match for patients requiring frequent transfusions, including many patients with SCD, comes from donors of the same race or ethnicity. According to the American Red Cross, closely matched blood helps prevent transfusion complications.

“The Sickle Cell Society’s Give Blood, Spread Love project welcomed the removal of the rule prohibiting anyone with ‘a partner who has been sexually active in parts of the world where HIV/AIDS is prevalent’ , like “most countries in Africa”. to donate blood for a period of three months. In reality, the three-month deferral period meant that many potential black African donors, and other people in long-term relationships, were permanently barred from donating vital blood and plasma,” Williams said.

Prior to the rule change by England’s Department of Health and Social Care in December, the question about a partner’s sexual activity had already been dropped from protocols in Scotland and Wales. The decision followed a review of scientific evidence by the FAIR Steering Group – For Individualized Risk Assessment – ​​on the latest research on epidemiology and risk of infection. The review was led by the NHSBT and involved other patient and stakeholder organisations.

Despite changes to blood donation risk assessment in Wales and Scotland, this issue was still retained in England.

Part of the Sickle Cell Society’s job now, Williams said, is to build trust with black people across the UK and engage the community on the subject of blood donation.

“We know how important it is to gain the trust of black communities when it comes to asking people to donate, and we hope this important and long-awaited change will encourage more potential black heritage donors. to come forward, and that the 12,000 people previously barred from donating blood will. recognize this call to action and jump-start their blood donation journey,” Williams said.

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