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Efforts to up minority organ donations show success

May 2010

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The number of U.S. minorities who become organ donors has increased substantially in the past 20 years, following national education efforts to raise awareness of the need, a new study finds.

Since the first organ transplants were performed in the 1950s in the U.S. , the supply of donor organs has always been much lower than the demand.

The problem is most acute among African Americans; they are, for example, about three times more likely than whites to develop kidney disease, and they account for one-third of the waiting list for kidney transplants.

Because transplants have a greater chance of success when the donor and recipient are as genetically similar as possible, it is preferable to match people of the same race and ethnicity.

But historically, organ donations from African Americans lagged far behind the need; surveys have identified a number of reasons -- including lack of awareness of the need for donor organs, distrust of the medical establishment, and a belief that their religion disapproves of organ donation (though most religions have no rules against donation).

In the 1990s, the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) was launched to raise awareness of the need for minority organ donors.

And the effort seems to be paying off, according to the new study, led by MOTTEP founder Dr. Clive Callender, a transplant surgeon at Howard University in Washington , D.C.

Looking at data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the researchers found that between 1990 and 2008, minority donation percentages in the U.S. doubled, from 15 percent of donations to 30 percent.

The rate of African-American donors more than doubled during those same years -- from 22 donors per 1 million, to 53 per million. Meanwhile, the rates among Hispanics rose from 23 to 50 per million, and those of Asians climbed from 10 per million to 35 per million.

Last Updated: 2010-06-07 12:01:53 -0400 (Reuters Health)

The findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

MOTTEP runs media campaigns and works with various local organizations, including schools and social, civic and religious groups, to raise awareness of the need for organ donors. It also educates minorities on how to lower their risk of developing kidney disease -- such as by keeping their blood pressure down, losing excess pounds, eating better and getting regular exercise.

The current findings suggest that the programs are having an impact, according to Callender's team.

Along with the looking at the UNOS data, the researchers studied survey data from nearly 6,800 12- to 18-year-olds who have taken part in MOTTEP programs. They found that as a group, the teenagers showed significant shifts in their understanding of kidney failure, organ and tissue donation, and their plans for becoming donor in the future.

Despite the progress, however, donor-organ shortages remain the number-one problem in organ transplantation. According to UNOS, more than 107,000 Americans are currently on the national waiting list for organ transplants, with about 85,000 waiting for donor kidneys.

Together, black, Hispanic and Asian Americans made up 61 percent of the waiting list for kidney transplants as of late 2009.

People can designate themselves as organ donors when they apply for or renew a driver's license or by signing up with their state donor registry.

SOURCE: http://www.journalacs.org/article/S1072-75...0122-5/abstract

Journal of the American College of Surgeons, May 2010.

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