August 1, is National Minority Donor Awareness Day, an opportunity to honor minority organ donors and their families, encourage greater donor enrollment among all racial and ethnic groups, and promote healthy living to decrease the need for organ transplantation.

At no time has the need for organ donations been greater: today, more than 108,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant. Of these, 55 percent are minorities. In 2009, minorities accounted for approximately 35 percent of organ and tissue donors in the country.

People of minority backgrounds have a particularly high need for organ transplants because some diseases that can lead to organ failure are found more frequently in such populations compared to others. For example, African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics are more likely than whites to suffer from end-stage renal (kidney) disease, often as a result of high blood pressure and other conditions that damage the kidneys. Native Americans are more likely than whites to suffer from diabetes.

Although organs are not matched according to ethnicity, and people of different ethnicities are often matched through donation, those on waiting lists have a better chance of being a recipient if large numbers of donors are available from their ethnic background. This reflects the higher likelihood of compatible blood type and tissue markers - critical for donor/recipient matching - among members of the same ethnicity. Hence, greater diversity of donors may potentially increase access to transplantation for all patients on the waiting list.

To become part of the movement:

- Enroll in your state donor registry. Learn how at: wwwandonor/donor/registry.shtm.

- Designate your decision on your driver's license. Do this when you obtain or renew your license.

- Talk to your family now about your donation decision. Help your family understand your wish to be an organ and tissue donor before a crisis occurs. Then they will be prepared to serve as your advocate for donation.

We can celebrate many gifts in this world. Encourage your family and friends to choose organ donation and give the greatest gifts of all - hope and life.

Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H.
Assistant Secretary for Health


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