There are racial and ethnic differences in Blood type and composition, but is there a relationship between culture and blood donation? The ABO blood grouping system was created in 1901, and since then has made blood transfusions safer, has saved countless lives, has been used by police in forensic science, and by anthropologists to study human characteristics and origins.

There is a constant need for donors as the shortage within the United States only seems to grow.  The facts about the urgent need for donors are astounding, according to data published by the America Red Cross:

  • Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
  • More than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day.
  • A total of 30 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
  • Sickle cell disease affects between than 70,000 – 100,000 people in the U.S. About 1,000 babies are born with the disease each year. The disease occurs in about 1 out of every 500 African American births. Sickle cell anemia also affects Hispanic Americans. The disease occurs in more than 1 out of every 36,000 Hispanic American births. Patients can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lives.
  • More than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer last year. African American men have the highest incidence rates for cancer.  Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
  • The number of blood donations collected in the U.S. in a year: 15.7 million
  • The number of blood donors in the U.S. in a year: 9.2 million
  • Although an estimated 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, less than 10% actually do each year.

So, how does culture play a role in getting donors?  The numbers are staggering, Blood Type O-negative is universal and therefore the most sought after because Type O-negative blood can be given to people of all blood types.  It is most commonly given to newborns in need, and in emergencies before the patients’ blood type is known.  Approximately 45% of the US has Type O (positive or negative) Hispanics in the United States that have Type O (positive or negative) is 57%, and 51% among African Americans.

The numbers speak for themselves.  Non-culturally relevant messaging is hurting the blood supply within the United States.  The plea for donors is not reaching the entire audience.  Cultural beliefs, education, socio-economic factors all play a role in someone deciding to donate or not.  Messaging that relays the urgency and importance of having an adequate supply while being culturally relevant and resonating with the audience will ultimately save lives.   Culture plays a role in every decision we make, especially those related to our health and well-being.