Science & Technology

Black History Month Blood Drive calls attention to a more diverse blood supply

Every February, people across Canada participate in Black History Month events and festivities that celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of Black people in Canada.

“It is important to acknowledge the experiences and contributions of Black people, especially considering the reality of anti-Blackness in society. So having this small opportunity in the form of a month of celebration and honouring is the minimum of what we should be doing,” Shanice Yarde, McGill’s Equity Education Advisor specializing in Race and Cultural Diversity, said in an interview with The Tribune. 

Across the sciences, researchers celebrate Black History Month to consider more closely Black people’s contributions to new technologies and innovations.

“Black History Month is important because the world must know Africans’ stories, understand their struggles, their aspirations, and the most important factors that shaped their destiny,” Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey, assistant professor of post-Reconstruction U.S. and African Diaspora history at McGill, said in an interview with The Tribune.

One of the significant Black History Month events that occurred this February was the 15th annual Montreal Black History Month Blood Drive. This event took place on Feb. 10 at the Comité d’Éducation aux Adultes in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood. 

Co-organized by two non-profit organizations, Héma-Québec and the Black History Month Round Table, the event aimed to support people with sickle cell anemia, educate Black communities on the importance of donating blood, and encourage Black communities to donate compatible blood.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited red blood cell disorder that affects hemoglobin—a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. Patients with this disease require regular blood transfusions.

The disease disproportionately affects Black people and has been historically understudied. Statistics have shown that around one in 13 babies of African descent are born with sickle cell trait, meaning that the baby carries one copy of the sickle cell gene passed down from one parent along with a normal hemoglobin gene from the other parent.

“Healthy red blood cells are round, and they run through your [blood vessels]. When you have sickle cell anemia, your red blood cells are [crescent-shaped] instead of round,” Josée Larivée, a Héma-Québec spokesperson, said in an interview with The Tribune.

Due to the abnormal shape of red blood cells, these cells can get stuck and block blood flow when travelling through blood vessels. As a result, pain and complications such as infection, lung disease, and stroke may arise.

People with sickle cell anemia often require blood transfusions to remove abnormal red blood cells and replace them with healthy ones, thereby reducing the incidence of complications.

“We try to encourage blood donations from Black people, but blood has no colour. A white person can donate blood to a Black person as long as they have the same blood type,” Larivée explained. 

However, certain blood types are unique to specific racial and ethnic groups. Although blood types fall into four major groups—A, B, AB, and O, some patients require an even closer match than the main blood types. 

Individuals who receive frequent blood transfusions, such as those with sickle cell anemia, need to receive the most compatible blood possible. Therefore, a diverse blood supply is vital to ensuring patients of all ethnicities receive the blood they need when they need it.

Unfortunately, Black communities donate blood at substantially lower rates than white communities. The reasons for this phenomenon are multifactorial, one of which is systemic racism

During the 80s and 90s, Canada and Quebec blamed African and Haitian communities for the presence of HIV and AIDS in Canada, claiming they brought it in by donating blood. Those who were born in certain African countries were banned from donating blood until 2016. 

“Black History Month is an occasion to open the conversation with people from the Black community because we need to enrich our blood supply in Quebec. Our blood supply has to reflect who we are in Quebec,” Larivée said. 

Share this:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Read the latest issue

Read the latest issue