Montreal

Héma-Québec needs more Black people to donate blood

Héma-Québec is working to raise awareness in about the need for Black people to donate blood in order to help Black patients who rely on regular blood transfusions from donors with a similar genetic background.

People with sickle cell anemia need regular blood transfusions, organization says

Sheulaine Jean-Louis said she has a friend with sickle cell anemia and she wants to help. She has been encouraging others to donate as well. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Sheulaine Jean-Louis gave blood for the third time of her life on Thursday, and she knows all too well how important it is that she puts in the effort. 

"I have a friend that's sick with sickle cell,"Jean-Louis said. "She talked to me a little about it."

Sickle cell anemia, a potentially painful blood disorder, affects about 200 Quebecers, most of them Black. People with the chronic disease rely on regular blood transfusions.

Jean-Louis said her mother also needed a blood transfusion when giving birth to her, so just giving blood now "makes me happy."

She said she plans to keep giving while at same time promoting the need for more donations on her own social media.

Akelia Campbell, who has sickle cell anemia, said the disease also comes with intense bouts of pain and other struggles. 

"Most recently, I received a shoulder replacement three weeks ago," she said.

Akelia Campbell, who has sickle cell anemia, said the disease can cause serious pain. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Héma-Québec is working to raise awareness about the need for Black blood donors to help Black patients. The organization said it is safer for frequent blood recipients to get it from someone with a similar genetic background. 

That similarity helps avoid adverse reactions. 

"It minimizes your chances of complications  — unnecessary complications —  or rejection," said Campbell.

Héma-Québec spokesperson Josée Larivée said one out of every 10 Black people carries the genes for sickle cell anemia. Blood transfusions help alleviate the pain that comes with the disorder.

The blood agency estimates about 10,000 Black Quebecers donate blood every year, but it needs 26,000 donors because one sickle cell anemia patient requires blood from about 130 donors every year. 

In general, only about three per cent of the entire population takes the time to give blood and blood is needed from all communities, Larivée said. The organization particularly needs donors before people head off on summer vacation, she said.

Héma-Québec is currently running an awareness campaign in Montréal-Nord and will have a pop-up donation site in Pointe-aux-Tremble next week.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

with files from Rowan Kennedy

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