The University Blood Initiative stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and is committed to bringing about a fairer, more equitable future. As such, we are spending this week highlighting the systemic racism, discrimination, and barriers to blood donation Black Americans have historically experienced and continue to face. This is part three of seven in our ongoing series.
The Red Cross, which collects some 40% of the nation’s blood donations, gets about 80% of its supply from mobile blood drives held at schools and on college campuses. According to the San Diego Blood Bank, these mobile blood drives, or bloodmobiles, collected more than half of their annual blood supply; We Are Blood in Central Texas cites 60% of theirs. While local blood centers’ statistics may vary from place to place, estimates indicate that between a half and two thirds blood donations in the United States come from bloodmobiles alone.
This sounds great, in theory: a driveable blood collection center that comes to its donors, instead of the other way around vastly increasing the accessibility of donation. And it is great, when it happens. You can’t donate to a mobile blood drive if none around you have been organized--though most any school or organization can arrange their own drive by contacting their local blood centers. Community Blood Center strongly recommends “the support of school administration i.e. school principal or faculty advisors, and the involvement of school organizations to promote and organize the event.” Though exact statistics of the distribution of mobile and school blood drives are scarce, these guidelines suggest that they favor organizations with the time, space, and resources to host, disproportionately favoring better-funded and -staffed locations.
A 2010 study by the New York Blood Center investigating disparities in minority blood donation found that potential blood donors of color often faced barriers to donation. Among them, “fear, inconvenience, perceived medical disqualification, being too busy, not being asked, and apathy,” and being “less likely to know where to donate.” Some of these barriers tie into other systemic issues--distrust and lack of education about the healthcare system, which we will be covering in an upcoming installment--but others, especially the perceived inconvenience and not knowing where to donate, can relate directly to a simple lack of accessibility. There is, supposedly, no more convenient, accessible form of blood donation than a bloodmobile: a blood drive shows up at your school or your workplace, asking you directly for donations, ready to go. Presumably, these opportunities aren’t nearly as common among communities of color or underfunded, often heavily segregated school districts as they could be. Anecdotal evidence from the Chicago Tribune supports this, as an interviewee “noted… that he’s never seen a blood drive in a black community.”
The obvious solution seems like it would be to just increase mobile blood drives, but, of course, it’s not that easy. In addition to issues of resources, more recent studies have found that recent interventions to do just that--bringing bloodmobiles to churches and other community gatherings--have not yet seen “a substantial or sustained increase in donations” from these efforts. It’s a start, and an important one, but it’s not enough. Although every little bit to increase access to blood donation helps, the problem is much deeper than mobile blood drives alone, and will take some serious work to even begin to correct.