African Americans represent 29 percent of all Americans awaiting an organ transplant

93 percent of Blacks waiting are in need of a kidney

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer

When it comes to minorities, they are in the majority when it comes to Americans in need of an organ transplant.

Of the 113,000 people in the U.S. currently awaiting a life-saving organ transplant, 60 percent are minorities, and African Americans make up the highest percentage of the minority groups.

But “transplants” and “organ donors” are words that just don’t seem to come up in Barber and Beauty Salon conversations. The discussion about organ donation and transplants simply aren’t top-of-mind in the Black community, or most other ethnic circles.

That’s exactly why renowned African American surgeon Clive O. Callender, M.D., started National Minority Donor Awareness Day in 1996.

“We wanted a special day to honor the nation’s minority donors, and also, to encourage more people to sign up as organ, eye and tissue donors,” Dr. Callender said on a health-related television program. “…Imagine how many more lives could be saved or enhanced, if there were simply more donors from every ethnicity.”
In the human body, an organ or tissue may fail or become severely damaged due to disease or injury. A transplantation is often recommended, and some of the most common organs transplanted are the kidney, liver, heart and lung. Other organs and tissues transplanted include the pancreas, intestine and cornea.
But there’s always been more people that need a transplant, than there are available organs to donate. And each day, 18 to 21 people die in the U.S. awaiting a life-saving organ transplant.

August is National Minority Donor Awareness Month

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, there were roughly 32,000 African Americans awaiting an organ transplant in 2019, which represented 29 percent of all people awaiting a transplant, though Blacks only account for 13 percent of the U.S. population. A kidney transplant is by far the most common organ in need for any ethnicity. For African Americans, 93 percent were in need of a kidney transplant, followed by the heart and liver.

“Organ donation is important for everyone, but due to high rates of diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease, minority populations are especially at risk,” Dr. Callender has said.

Of the 32,000 Blacks awaiting an organ transplant in 2019, there were roughly 6,750 transplants performed. The vicious cycle continues—while between 20-25 percent of the African Americans in need of a transplant received one in 2019, they are replaced with more African Americans being placed on the waiting list. Thus, even with thousands of transplants performed on African Americans each year, there seems to be about 32,000 African Americans on average each year on the waiting list.

Data from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services also shows that while Blacks accounted for 29 percent of all patients on the transplant waiting list, Blacks accounted for just 12.5 percent of all organ donors in 2019.

“We must continue to educate our communities about the importance of being a registered organ donor, and dispel the misconceptions about organ donation,” Dr. Callender said. “Doctors will do everything they can to save your life, even if you are a registered donor, and you won’t need your organs in the hereafter.”

Dr. Callender, while not known in the Pittsburgh area, is highly-regarded in medical circles across the nation. He’s currently professor of surgery at Howard University, but he’s considered a pioneer for his tireless effort over the past five decades to increase organ donation in the African American community.

Dr. Callender founded the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) in 1991. According to a release from Howard University, MOTTEP was the first program of its kind to include a two-fold strategy: Increase the number of persons becoming organ/tissue donors; and increase awareness of the diseases and behaviors that lead to the need for transplantation in the first place. In 2000, National MOTTEP created the campaign, “Love Yourself, Take Care of Yourself,” that promoted disease prevention.
Dr. Callender’s idea for a National Minority Donor Awareness Day, over the years, turned into a week of awareness. Today, it’s a month of awareness.

“I reflect on the days when they said it was an impossible task to increase organ donation rates in the African American and minority community,” Dr. Callender said during an interview with Howard University in 2019.

At one point, African Americans accounted for just three percent of all organ donations, in 1982. Those days are long gone. Blacks in recent years have averaged between 12 and 16 percent of all organ donations.

“It’s a miracle and I’m grateful,” Dr. Callender told Howard University. “This proves that this is the ministry that God had for me and validates my life’s purpose.”

(To become an organ donor, visit


CLIVE O. CALLENDER, M.D., the founder of the first National Minority Donor Awareness Day, in 1996.

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