Red Cross aims to increase blood availability for patients with sickle cell disease

NEW JERSEY — When patients living with sickle cell disease face a sickle cell crisis, blood transfusions can make a lifesaving difference. That’s why the American Red Cross has launched an initiative to grow the number of blood donors who are black to help patients with sickle cell disease, an enduring and often invisible health disparity in the United States.

More than 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, the most common inherited blood disorder, and the majority of patients are of African descent. Despite the discovery of the disease more than a century ago, there have been fewer health resources available to help those currently suffering from sickle cell crisis in comparison to similar diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with sickle cell disease experience worse health outcomes than comparable diseases.

Many patients with sickle cell disease will require regular blood transfusions to help manage their disease. Unfortunately, these patients may develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to their own. Many individuals who are black have distinct markers on their red blood cells that make their donations ideal for helping patients with sickle cell disease. More than half of blood donors who are black have blood that is free of C, E and K antigens — making them the best match for those with sickle cell disease.

The Red Cross asks members of the black community to join in helping to address this health disparity and meet the needs of patients with sickle cell disease. Donors can take action by scheduling a blood donation appointment at or by calling 1-800-733-2767. 

Sickle cell disease distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, which can cause extreme pain. When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels, potentially leading to stroke and organ failure.

“Transfusions provide healthy blood cells, unblocking blood vessels and delivering oxygen,” said Dr. David Moolten, medical director of the American Red Cross. “By increasing the amount of closely matched blood products, the Red Cross is able to help ensure the right blood product is available at the right time for patients facing a sickle cell crisis, minimizing complications for those with rare blood types fighting sickle cell disease.”

Partnerships with national and local organizations within the black community are critical to building trust, sharing information and working together to engage new donors to help save lives. Nationally, the Red Cross has entered new partnerships with preeminent organizations like the NAACP and 100 Black Men of America to raise awareness about sickle cell disease as a persisting and heartbreaking health disparity, and to help patients with sickle cell disease by encouraging blood donations from individuals who are black.