Line drawing of three people representing a group blood donation

Blood and ethnic diversity

Markers on red blood cells determine a person’s blood type. Your blood type is inherited, so having a donor base that is ethnically diverse improves the chances that people of all ethnicities will find a close match. Recipients with complex needs have better outcomes if they receive blood from people with similar markers.

Line drawing of a platelet donation bag showing a red blood drop icon

Platelets and ethnic diversity

Platelets are the main component of blood that helps with clotting. In rare cases, newborns and adults with low platelet counts need highly selected or “matched” platelets to prevent or treat life-threatening bleeding. There’s only a 1 in 10,000 chance (or less) of finding a match among donors who don’t share a similar ethnic background or ancestry.

Line drawing of DNA stem cells

Stem cells and ethnic diversity

Stem cell donors and recipients are matched according to inherited DNA markers called human leukocyte antigens (HLA). The HLA markers occur with varying frequency across different ethnic groups — which means that if someone belongs to an ethnic group that’s underrepresented in the stem cell registry, their chances of finding a match are much lower. While not always the case, the most likely match will be an unrelated donor of similar ethnic background or ancestry.

Line drawing of kidneys

Organs, tissues and ethnic diversity

Although donated organs are not matched according to ethnicity, similar ancestry does increase the chances of donors and recipients having blood types and tissue markers in common. Matched ethnicity between donors and recipients is particularly important when it comes to kidney transplantation.

Line drawing of a plasma donation bag showing a red blood drop icon

Plasma and ethnic diversity

Plasma is the straw-coloured component of blood that is used to make lifesaving medications; it’s also used for transfusions. While ethnic diversity is less important when it comes to matching plasma donors and patients, we need more donors from all ethnic backgrounds to help secure Canada’s plasma supply.  

In some cases, people who aren’t able to donate blood or platelets — including those who have had malaria — may be able to donate plasma.

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