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NHS Calls for Organ Donations from Ethnic Minorities

By now, we probably all understand that there is a general shortage of organ donors. The UK has one of the lowest rates in Europe and over the last few years, there has been much heated debate about how we go about improving the number of donations. In Wales, individuals must opt out if they do not wish to donate their organs. Welsh health chiefs say that the number of lives saved has increased substantially. NHS England has considered this move for many years but has yet to change the approach. For now, however, there is a new focus with a greater urgency for donors from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The Facts About Organ Donation

Although white and other people from a European background can accept organ donations from people from ethnic backgrounds (and vice versa) there is a lower chance of a rejection. In a report released at the beginning of September, the critical shortage of donations from minority communities came in for particular note.

  • 66%, or 2/3 of the white population donates or is registered to donate organs
  • With ethnic minorities (particularly blacks and Asians), that figure is halved to just 1/3
  • Although there are more donors than ever before, around 1,300 people died while waiting for organ donation in 2015
  • In 2015, 5% of all donated organs came from black and Asian communities with Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities recording the lowest figures
  • In contrast, 26% of patients on the organ donor waiting list, that’s over a quarter, were from black and Asian communities

The report praised efforts of health chiefs to improve donation rates which remain amongst the lowest in Europe. At present, the figure stands at 62%. There is a target to improve this to 80% by 2020 and that means engaging communities with the lowest donation rates.

How This Shortage Is A Real Problem

There is a real disparity between donations and donation recipients as far as ethnic minorities are concerned. The biggest challenge for the area of the health service concerned with donations was that families often refused permission for their deceased loved ones organs to be donated.

The largest disparity is between the rate of people (all ethnicities) saying that they are willing to receive a donation but not willing to donate. In black and Asian communities, it is more important because these demographics have higher rates of conditions such as diabetes and hepatitis, making them much more likely to require donations. It is also known that people with a Caribbean background are much more likely to experience kidney problems. Kidneys are amongst the most commonly donated organs.

What Can Be Done?

NHS Blood and Transplant, the division of the NHS dealing with donations, have asked that people be more open about their wishes. Ultimately, even if somebody has registered, the family members present at the time will make the final decision. This is the case regardless of the ethnicity of the potential donor and is not peculiar to immigrants or their descendants, so why the disparity?

It is possible that faith-based concern is one of the reasons. Jehovah’s Witnesses have strictures against blood, for example, but not against donation so long as the blood is removed from the organ. Islam seems largely divided between those scholars who say it is a good thing and those who say that it should not be permitted. Islam is mostly in favour of organ donation, but a lack of understanding by adherents of these faiths who may mistakenly believe that it is not permitted by their religion could also be another factor.

Religious background cannot explain the entire problem though. It seems regardless of belief, and even spanning religions where there are followers from varied ethnic and social backgrounds, many black and Asian communities simply do not talk about their wishes quite as much, as revealed in this report. That may require a new approach from the NHS in their approach to engaging minority groups.