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A coalition of four historically Black medical colleges and universities has announced a new initiative aimed at increasing the number of African American registered organ donors, training more Black transplant surgeons, and eradicating inequalities among transplant recipients. The consortium—which consists of HBCU medical schools—Charles R. Drew University of Medicine, Howard University College of Medicine, Meharry Medical College and Morehouse School of Medicine—the Organ Donation Advocacy Group, and the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations—hopes to create opportunities for African American medical students to study in the field of organ transplantation at participating HBCUs. They’re also able to intern at organ procurement organizations and transplant centers.

The initiative, commissioned by Congress, was created after a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine uncovered disparities in America’s organ transplant system.

The initiative, commissioned by Congress, was created after a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine uncovered disparities in America’s organ transplant system. Structural racism in western medicine has adversely impacted African American patients for hundreds of years, causing rampant mistrust in minority communities. The initiative hopes to help steer medical students into organ transplantation, donation and procurement careers, a necessity given the small number of Black doctors working with transplant patients. Only seven percent of nephrologists (kidney doctors, those who treat chronic kidney diseases) are Black and only 5.5% of transplant surgeons are African American. And while Black people are four times as likely to suffer from kidney failure than white people according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, they spend more time on national waiting lists and ultimately are not as likely to get a transplant.

Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, which is part of the consortium, told the Associated Press, “At the heart of all this is the profound disparity in transplants that are given and performed on African Americans versus whites in our country, and it’s a long-standing problem and issue. Eighty percent of Meharry graduates are Black and 80 percent work in underserved areas. The program will introduce Black students in predominately Black areas to careers in organ transplantation. The initiative will offer transplant materials to patients with dialysis, and community education and engagement. A dangerous myth is that there aren’t a lot of Blacks needing organ transplants but the truth is 28.5% of candidates currently waiting for transplants are Black even though they make up only 13% of the U.S. population.

Trailblazing Howard University transplant surgeon, and founder of the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP), Dr. Clive O. Callender believes the initiative will save more lives. “Speaking with the Associated Press, he said, “This collaboration will allow us to save thousands of lives across the country by strengthening relationships between health care workers, Black and minority patients, and organ and transplantation professionals.” Historically, Black medical schools have served as a pipeline for Black doctors and medical workers to enter fields of study that have traditionally lacked diversity. The report has set a goal to increase the number of transplants to 50,000 a year by 2026. Last year over 41,000 transplants were performed, a nearly six percent increase over 2020, proving that an increase in organ donors is a matter of life, death and life renewed.

The COVID pandemic exposed the racial inequalities in America’s healthcare system, prompting educational institutions to reflect on industry biases, access, and the toll underrepresentation has on minority patients who already have a well-founded and inherent mistrust of the medical system. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are primed to play a pivotal role in eradicating the disparate toll discrimination has on Black bodies.

If you’re wondering what you can do to help: become a registered organ donor, consider becoming a living donor, and speak to your loved ones about the importance and lack of organ donations. And there’s no better time to do so than during August’s National Minority Donor Awareness Month.

You can find more information about the initiative here:

Kim Lute, Contributor

Lute is the Regional Marketing Manager for Morehouse School of Medicine’s Cardiovascular Research Institute. Before joining Morehouse, Ms. Lute worked as Peabody and DuPont award-winning journalist for CNN International. She later wrote for the Huffington Post where her opinion pieces frequently focused on America’s uneven political and social landscape. Her other bylines have appeared in The New York Times. The Guardian, Newsweek, The Washington Post’s Root Magazine, The Atlantan and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, among many others. She recently received her Master’s in Narrative Nonfiction Writing from the University of Georgia in Athens. Currently, she is penning a book on organ transplantation titled, WHAT TO DO WITH JOY, TO BE YOUNG. BLACK, DRIVEN AND SICK. It will be the first transplant  memoir written by an African American. She is a two-time liver transplant recipient and is passionate about increasing organ donor awareness. She is represented by the Ayesha Pande Literary Agency in New York.