Sunday, March 2, 2003

Blacks donate organs less often

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Fewer Tristate African-Americans are consenting to organ donation, according to the LifeCenter, the agency that coordinates organ donations in Greater Cincinnati.

The African-American consent rate dropped from 50 percent in 2001 to 36 percent last year, the agency recently reported. Overall, organ donations were up in Greater Cincinnati during 2002.

Last year, the LifeCenter collected 126 organs from 39 donors. That's up about 3 percent compared with 115 organs from 41 donors in 2001.

LifeCenter officials attributed the decline among African-Americans in part to the racial unrest in the city since the April 2001 riots.

"We are not necessarily blaming the decline on that one event, but we did notice a sharp decline following the unrest," said Mark Sommerville, assistant director of the LifeCenter. "It's symptomatic of the same problem that has plagued organ donation for many years, and that is African-Americans often don't trust medical institutions or larger institutions in general."

A 2000 survey on community issues, conducted by the UC Institute for Policy Research on behalf of the LifeCenter, found that blacks were much less interested in becoming organ donors than whites. That lack of interest may be based partly on a fear of mutilation of the body or distrust of the medical establishment, some experts say.

Sommerville said the LifeCenter has formed an African-American steering committee to examine how best to educate blacks about organ donation. The LifeCenter has also created a program where specially trained requestors will accompany transplant coordinators when they speak with black families about organ donation.

Getting more African-Americans to donate organ tissue is critical, Sommerville said, considering some diseases of the kidney, heart, lung, pancreas and liver are found more frequently in blacks. Transplant success rates increase when organs are matched between members of the same ethnic and racial group, he said.

According the LifeCenter's Web site, 26 percent (70 out of 268) of all patients waiting for organ transplants in Greater Cincinnati during 2001 were black.

There are 262 patients waiting this year.


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