ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — In the spirit of Black History Month, the goal of the American Red cross is to increase the number of African American blood donors. Sickle cell predominantly affects African Americans but can impact people of any race.

According to the American Red Cross, sickle cell disease is one of the most common genetic blood disorders. More than 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell, and it mostly affects those of African and Latino descent.

Normally red blood cells are soft, round, and flow through the body carrying oxygen. With sickle cell, they become hard and crescent-shaped which makes it difficult to bring blood throughout the body. That can cause severe pain, as well as tissue and organ damage. There is no cure for sickle cell, but people can find relief by getting blood donations.

The Red Cross says it’s more useful to match the blood type and components of the blood from a donor to a person in sickle cell crisis if they have the same components of blood. The majority of the time, it is important for the donor’s blood to be of the same race as the recipients to get the best match.

“The only way for sickle cell patients, when they are in that crisis, to find peace and recovery and reduce pain is to have that blood that’s matching their blood because if they continue to get blood that’s not specifically matched, there can be adverse reactions to that,” says Jackie Grant the Executive Director of the Southwest Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross says only 3% of the population gives blood, and right now, they are in need of blood donations. There are many factors causing the urgent need like a shortage of donors during the holidays, winter weather, the rain, and Covid-19.

The American Red Cross is constantly in need of blood donations, but if you are unable to donate your blood, they encourage you to talk to people you know about donating, volunteering, or supporting them financially.

They say it only takes about eight minutes to give blood and your donation can save up to three people’s lives.

To find a blood drive or donation center near you click here.