Simonne Weeks headshot

Funding boost for Brighton project to encourage more Black and Asian people to become blood, organ and stem cell donors

University of Brighton’s Donor Research team have received a share of £685,000 funding as part of the Government’s commitment to continue to tackle health inequalities and promote organ, blood, and stem cell donation among Black and Asian communities.

Donor Research is an award-winning network of University of Brighton students and academics from diverse backgrounds, supported by healthcare professionals and funded by NHS Blood and Transport (NHSBT). They work collaboratively to advance, support, and shape their community’s awareness of blood and organ donation for a fairer and more equal society.

More donors are urgently needed because the shortage of donors from Black and Asian communities means patients from these communities can have worse outcomes. People from the same ethnic background are more likely to be a match.

  • NHSBT can only provide the best matched blood for people with sickle cell around half the time. Sickle cell is the fastest growing genetic condition in the UK. It is more prevalent in people from Black African or Black Caribbean backgrounds. The NHS needs a record 250 blood donations a day to treat people with sickle cell.
  • Black and Asian people wait longer for organ transplants. People from Black, Asian, Mixed or Other minority ethnic backgrounds make up one third of all people on the transplant waiting list, due to the difficulties finding a match.
  • White patients have about 80-90% chance of finding a stem cell match from a stranger. However Black, Asian and mixed-race people can only find a stem cell match from a stranger around 30-40% of the time.

As part of its programme of activities, the University’s Donor Research team has joined forces with artist Sarah Akinterinwa to create a selection of eye-catching comics that will help raise awareness and tell the story about blood and organ donation especially for Black and Asian communities. Sarah is a renowned editorial illustrator, graphic designer and fine artist, including being a cartoonist for New Yorker Magazine.

Simonne Weeks, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science and Project Lead for Donor Research at the University of Brighton, said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to broaden the scope of our impact as we partner with an esteemed Black-British artist, Sarah Akinterinwa. Together, we are creating an exciting catalogue of comics that will raise awareness through the art of storytelling on key topics about blood and organ donation that specially relate to Black and Asian people in our community.”

Altaf Kazi, Assistant Director, Partnerships and Community Engagement at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We have seen first-hand the abilities of trusted individuals and community groups to prompt conversation, tackle misinformation, educate, and offer reassurance around donation.

“Often a person’s best donor match will share their ethnicity, but too many donation opportunities are missed because families haven’t discussed organ donation, and Black and Asian people are seriously under-represented when it comes to donating blood and stem cells. 

“We are really excited to work with these grassroots champions to address inequalities and help save more lives.”

The NHSBT Community Grants Programme scheme has shown that enabling grassroots organisations to champion organ, blood and stem cell donation in a culturally relevant way increases awareness and engagement, helping move towards greater health equality and a more diverse donor base.

A total of £685,000 has been distributed among community-based projects across England and Wales. Anthony Nolan is again supporting the programme by providing 40% of the contribution towards projects working on stem cell donation.

Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: “It is important everyone has the best chance of receiving a potentially life-saving blood, organ or stem cell donation, regardless of their ethnic background and these organisations are helping to make a real difference.

“We’re investing to encourage and increase education about donation among black and Asian communities.

“Thank you to all these grass roots organisations for bringing communities together to transform the lives of thousands of people.”

Henny Braund MBE, Chief Executive at Anthony Nolan, said: “At Anthony Nolan, we’re proud to work with our partners to fund the Community Grants Programme. There are long-standing disparities in access to lifesaving stem cell transplants, with people from a minority ethnic background still much less likely to find a match from an unrelated donor.

“These vital projects will boost the number of stem cell donors from minority ethnic backgrounds on the UK stem cell register. In turn, they will help close the gap in access to lifesaving treatment between patients from minority ethnic backgrounds and those of White ethnicity.”

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