Martin Luther King Jr. Day Statement From Donor Network West President & CEO, Janice Whaley
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of remembrance, I am reminded by his words…
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Organ, eye and tissue donation for transplantation has the power to save and heal lives. We see this every day through stories from transplant recipients who now have a second chance at life. However, while organ transplantation has benefitted people from all backgrounds, the need for organ donation and transplantation is significantly pronounced in minority communities.
Minority communities face disproportionately higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, all which contribute to organ failure, especially kidney failure. In fact, Black and African Americans are 3 times as likely and Hispanics are 1.3 times more likely to have kidney failure compared to White Americans.[i]
Of the 100,000 people waiting on the national organ transplant waiting list, 92,000 are waiting for a kidney.[ii] As such, 60% of the individuals on the national organ transplant waiting list represent a racial or ethnic minority.[iii]
While there are many factors that play into these disproportionate rates, access to healthcare should not be one. However, even today, minority communities are more likely to face barriers to accessing healthcare. These barriers include lack of insurance, transportation, language, and the ability to take time off from work, to name a few. Cultural differences also play a role in positive patient-provider interactions and the quality of healthcare minority patients receive.
On top of the barriers to quality healthcare, there is the overall mistrust of the healthcare system based on years of injustices faced by minority communities including historical events like the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American male and the sterilization of American Indian women without their permission. This often leads to a slow acceptance around government health-related guidance’s, as we most recently saw around the COVID-19 vaccines.
Given the significant challenges that minority communities continue to face and the recognition of many past injustices against minority communities, Donor Network West is aware of the significant need to meet every family member we engage with, where they are. This includes interacting with cultural sensitivity, in the language of their choice and with compassion and understanding to their individual situation.
As an organization, we are committed to being a leading organ and tissue procurement organization serving our community with compassionate support and service excellence. To do this, our team rallies around our core values: passion, excellence, relationships, diversity, equity, and inclusion. These values require that staff respect and value people of all backgrounds; appreciate and celebrate differences in others; and create environments for equity and inclusion with opportunities for everyone to reach their full potential and even more importantly, for donor families to honor their loved one’s legacies and our transplant recipients to thrive in their second chance at life.
These are the values we live by and today as we remember the great Martin Luther King, Jr., I hope that our partners in organ donation and transplantation – our hospitals, transplant centers, doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, funeral home directors, coroners, and medical examiners will join us in fighting for equity in healthcare for all. We must work to ensure that everyone has access to health information to live a healthy and long life, and information about organ, eye and tissue donation for transplantation, to give hope and a second chance at life to the thousands of patients waiting across the United States for a lifesaving organ transplant.
– Janice Whaley, President & CEO of Donor Network West
[i] National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/minorities-KD#:~:text=Black%20or%20African%20Americans%20are,the%20risk%20for%20kidney%20disease. Accessed 11 January 2023.
[ii] American Kidney Fund. https://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-donation-and-transplant/transplant-waiting-list#:~:text=The%20list%20is%20managed%20by,%25)%20waiting%20for%20a%20kidney. Accessed 11 January 2023.
[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Impact of Racism on our Nation’s Health. 2021 [cited 2021 Nov 12]. available from https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/racism-disparities/impact-of-racism.html.
Donor Network West saves and heals lives by facilitating organ and tissue recovery for transplantation and research. The organization was established in 1987 and is an official Donate Life organization accredited by the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO) and the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). Federally designated to serve 45 counties in Northern California and Northern Nevada, Donor Network West partners with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the state-authorized donor registries. For information, visit DonorNetworkWest.org and follow us on social media: @mydnwest.