Sickle Cell Awareness Month: How the American Red Cross Mission is Meeting the Need 

September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about sickle cell disease and its devastating impact on individuals and families. While sickle cell disease is the most common genetic blood disease in the U.S., occurring in 1 in 365 Black or African American births, limited healthcare resources have historically been available to support those affected. There is much work to be done, to continue to educate communities about sickle cell disease and the critical role they can play in ensuring effective treatment is available, when and where it is needed most.  

Affecting approximately 100,000 individuals in the U.S., the majority of whom are of African descent, sickle cell disease is an inherited red blood cell disorder which causes red blood cells to become hard, crescent-shaped and sticky and to have shortened lifespans, producing anemia . The quality of the red blood cells limits their flexibility and ability to flow effortlessly to carry oxygen to the rest of the body. Sickle cells can impede or block blood flow, which may lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, and even stroke. Blood transfusion is the most common treatment for complications of sickle cell disease, increasing the number of normal red blood cells in the body and helping to alleviate the associated symptoms and suffering. Because patients with sickle cell disease often require frequent blood transfusions, it is critical that they are treated with the most compatible blood–often negative for C, E, and K antigens–to prevent adverse reactions. Many individuals who are Black have structures on their red blood cells that are found in different frequencies compared to other donor populations; they are almost 3 times more likely to be a match for patients with sickle cell disease than donors who are not Black or African American. 

One in three African American blood donors is a match for patients with sickle cell disease. 

While the American Red Cross has previously worked to provide the blood products desperately needed by patients living with sickle cell disease, we also identified an opportunity to better meet hospital demand and provide the most compatible units for patients . In 2021, the Red Cross launched a national initiative to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease and improve health outcomes. The Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative seeks to help address health disparities associated with sickle cell disease by increasing much-needed blood donations from individuals who are Black through community partnerships, which will help ensure that closely matched blood products are available for patients. 

This June, the Red Cross celebrated two successfully completed fiscal years of the Sickle Cell Initiative. During the second fiscal year, the number of first-time Red Cross blood donors who self-identified as African American increased by 31% from the previous fiscal year. Additionally, more than 132,000 self-identified African American blood donors answered the call to help patients in need, resulting in over 59,000 compatible blood products collected. As part of the initiative, the Red Cross is also offering expanded sickle cell trait screening for donors who self-identify as Black, African American or multiracial. Since April 2021, this valuable health insight has been provided to more than 142,000 donors. 

While we recognize September as Sickle Cell Awareness Month, Red Cross staff, volunteers, partners and donors make raising awareness about this disease a priority every single day. Together, we work to provide help and hope to families like the Dandridges, who know firsthand the overwhelming reality of living with sickle cell disease and what it means to receive the generosity of blood donors. David Dandridge Jr. was born with sickle cell disease and has received numerous blood transfusions to treat complications and multiple transient ischemic attacks over the years. David has said, “Thank God, I have never been in a situation where I needed blood and it was not available. However, I have heard of occasions when blood transfusions were [postponed] due to a lack of blood donations.” It is our shared responsibility to inspire more donors to give, to ensure a diverse and sustainable blood supply, helping to ease the suffering of David and others who courageously face sickle cell disease. 



  • Lauren Guyton, MBA

    Lauren Guyton, MBA currently serves as the Director of Marketing for Biomedical Services at the American Red Cross. Responsible for product and services marketing strategy development, Lauren’s primary focus is the enablement of effective delivery of lifesaving treatments to patients in need. Joining the Red Cross in 2003, Lauren has spent her career dedicated to humanitarian service to the community.