Black Brits and the Sickle Cell Crisis

I’m Thandie Sibanda,  Music and Culture Writer for and most importantly, and closest to my heart, a blood donation advocate. Here is why I believe the best way to be an “ally” is to donate blood for the hereditary blood disease that is prominent within the Black community.  

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) has increasingly become one of the most unreported blood disorders in the UK. It is estimated that there are over 15,000 people with SCD in the UK with those suffering from it originating from African Caribbean backgrounds. 

While the gap in knowledge of the disease still resides within the Black community, the daring figures show the prevalence of the disease is increasing because of immigration into the UK and new births. In order for sicklers to overcome painful crisis, hospitals will administer blood transfusions provided by the NHS. 

I’m one of three siblings, my parents were both Sickle Cell trait carriers and my mum gave birth to two sicklers, my two brothers.  Growing up I often speculated the circumstances around how I’d missed both the trait and the disease. How is a life-changing illness not discussed often enough within our community and the British education system? And would the circumstances differ if White people were included in the percentage? 

PHOTO-2020-06-19-16-09-52Thandi photographed above with her brothers.

When I first began my university research on the correlation between ethnicity and donations I spoke to a series of medical professionals. A particular meeting that stood out to me was from a Haematology nurse who asked me why I thought there was a greater understanding of Cerebral Palsy in comparison to SCD? 

“Maybe because CP affects more Whites than Blacks, and while both require blood to treat their symptoms, the alarming statistics show a different approach to donating from white Brits when compared to Black Brits.  Furthermore, B+ blood is found in Black people and sicklers often benefit from closely matched blood from a donor of a similar race. Would our approach to donating differ if the disorder had been explained in school?

Earlier this year, a three-day delay in giving 12-year-old Victoria Olabode, who had Sickle Cell disease, a CT scan contributed to her stroke death. There is still a deep understanding that Victoria’s death could have been prevented with a wider understanding.

PHOTO-2020-06-19-16-08-4112 year old Victoria Olabode photographed above who passed away after a three-day delay on her treatment.

Perhaps the stigma of donation within the black community stems from religion and a cryptic fear of blood and its “spiritual” affiliations; the notion is superstition to some, but frightening to many. When I look at the generation my parents grew up in, particularly African natives where HIV/AIDS took the lives of millions. I think these fears, questions and gaps in knowledge have played the foundation that tainted the positive aspects of donating amongst the Black community. 

In general, as long as you are fit and healthy, weigh over 7 stone 12lbs (50kg) and are aged between 17 and 66 (up to 70 if you have given blood before) you should be able to give blood.

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