Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Increasing Organ Donations: An Urgent Need in African American and Latino Communities

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Increasing Organ Donations: An Urgent Need in African American and Latino Communities

Article excerpt

Advancements made in biomedicine and surgical techniques since the 1960s have greatly improved the success of organ and tissue transplantation. Survival rates have risen dramatically due to improvements in surgery and the development of immuno-suppressive agents. Nevertheless, within the African American and Latino communities, many individuals have not benefited from these life-saving medical treatments because the need for donated organs outpaces the available supply. This article examines factors impeding African Americans and Latinos from receiving transplantation as a treatment option, the urgent need for both communities to be active in supporting organ and tissue donation, and strategies to address ambivalence towards organ donation.

End-stage renal disease is an important public health and medial problem in the United States that affects racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately. Approximately 35.6 percent of the 39,924 persons on kidney transplant lists are African Americans; of those African Americans awaiting transplantation, only 21.9 percent receive a donor kidney. African Americans experience a longer waiting period for organ donation: a median of thirty-nine months compared to twenty months for Euro-Americans. African Americans are seven times more likely than European Americans to develop hypertension, a condition that can lead to end-stage renal disease and eventual kidney failure. They are four times more likely than Euro-Americans to be on dialysis, which is best treated by kidney transplantation. While African Americans compose 12 percent of the general population, they number nearly one-third of those with renal disease (Rozon-Solomon and Burrows 1999; Young and Gaston 2002).

Although few epidemiological studies have focused on Latino organ donation or transplantation issues, available research shows the population has a higher incidence of end-stage renal disease, hypertension, and diabetes. These conditions contribute to the substantial need for organ transplants among a group underrepresented as organ donors. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and is estimated to be four to six times more common in Latinos. Latinos make up 10 percent of those waiting kidney transplants. Within the Hispanic population, about fifteen thousand Latinos await organ transplant, with about 77 percent waiting for a kidney transplant (Alvaro et al. 2005; Chapa 1991; Chiapella and Feldman 1995). The shortage of available donor organs contributes to longer waits for transplants and greater risk of death for both African Americans and Latinos.

Transplantation is the treatment of choice for those with end-stage renal diseases. However, according to Callender, Miles, Hall, and Gordon (2002) of the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, minorities are the most likely members of society to die while awaiting transplant or to not even be offered this treatment choice. It is urgent that African Americans and Latinos understand transplantation and donor issues, how the current shortage of donor organs affects their communities disproportionately, and what actions have been taken to increase donation consent.


Research illustrates that when families do consent to donate their deceased relatives' organs or become designated organ donors themselves, it is because of their desire to see good come out of tragedy, their sense of a duty to help others, and their acknowledgement of the altruism and life-saving capacity that donation allows. However, members of the African American and Latino communities have been reluctant to donate organs for transplantation, designate oneself as an organ donor by signing a donor card, or to register as a bone marrow donor. According to research on organ donor issues, such as that covered on the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) Web site, the African American community and Latino population share many of the same fears and concerns towards organ donation (Chapa 1991). …

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