Emory Report

May 8, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 32

Health conference to focus on organ donations

By Lillian Kim

African Americans are especially prone to health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, that may eventually require organ or tissue transplants.

But blacks show relatively low participation in tissue and organ donation programs. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, in 1998 African Americans made up 12.5 percent of living donors and about 11 percent of deceased donors--yet they accounted for nearly 17 percent of all recipients.

"A number of our patients are appropriate candidates for bone marrow transplantation because of leukemia or lymphoma," said Ned Waller, director of the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center at Emory. "Some patients may not have an appropriate sibling donor, and their only hope for curative therapy is a volunteer donor. Unfortunately, there is an underrepresentation of minorities in the National Marrow Donor Program registry. So we're anxious to increase minority participation."

To inform the African American community about the need for and safety of tissue and organ donation, Emory Healthcare is hosting a free conference titled "Brothers...Give Life...It's Time!" The conference is the fourth in Emory's annual "Brothers" minority health series, which focuses on African American men but welcomes the entire public.

Technological advancements in recent years have made donating and receiving organs and tissue (including blood) much safer, more convenient and less intimidating for both donors and recipients. Within the African American community, however, a tremendous difference still exists between the need for donated tissue and organs and those willing to donate.

This disparity may be attributable partly to lingering distrust among blacks of the medical establishment, due to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

"People are still dealing with Tuskegee. We haven't resolved that yet," said Don Speaks, director of Emory Healthcare's Office of Community Affairs and Market Development. "But the medical community is working hard to regain that lost trust."

Workshops at the "Brothers" conference will focus on different types of organ and tissue transplantation, as well as on religious views of transplantation. A common myth is that donating organs and tissues goes against religious beliefs. According to LifeLink of Georgia, an organ procurement organization, all major religions support donation.

The event is co-sponsored by the Emory Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center, the Center for Transplantation at Emory Hospital, the Georgia Coalition on Organ Donation, the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia, the Fulton County Health Department and other area health organizations.

Previous "Brothers" conferences have highlighted cardiovascular health, violence and prostate conditions. Workshop discussions have led to the development of interventions such as violence mediation programs in junior high schools and community prostate screening sites.

The conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 20, at the Decatur Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Plaza. For more information about the conference, call 404-778-3033. The deadline for registration is May 10. To register, call 404-778-3033 or 404-778-7777, or register online at www.minority-health.org.

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