Health, race, and economy in the US blood industry

Authors: Kelsey Johnson*,
Topics: Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: race, health, blood donation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: President's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the political economy of race in American blood banking and medical practice. In the United States, non-profits such as the Red Cross collect ‘whole blood’ from unpaid donors -- for direct use in local hospital settings. In contrast, commercial blood plasma centers collect plasma from donors in exchange for payment, for manufacture of plasma-derived pharmaceuticals that can be sold in the global market. In this talk, I show how the geographies of profit and non-profit blood collection increasingly overlap, driven in part by competition over a racialized blood donor base. Historically, profit and non-profit blood sectors have been thought to draw from distinct donor populations—one driven by altruism and the public good, the other incentivized by cash payments. These populations are also highly racialized, with a majority of white donors in the whole blood sector, and an overrepresentation of African Americans in the paid market. Today these longstanding divisions are changing, due in part to the expansion of plasma collection across the United States, falling whole blood donation rates, and advances in ‘phenotype matching’ technologies which require more minority donors. Drawing on research conducted in Georgia’s profit and non-profit blood sectors, this paper suggests that the competitive landscape of blood and plasma donation commoditizes racialized bodies and places in new and unexpected ways.

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