Tight Audience-Targeting to Raise Kidney Awareness

It's sad and dispiriting that a vital message is currently failing to fully get through -- the message that healthy people can really easily help other, very sick people.

The healthy ones walk around with (almost universally) two kidneys, and they only need one. Donating a kidney while you're still alive can readily save the life of someone who needs a transplant ... and yet the national rate of live donations, as they're called, falls desperately below what's needed. Every year four thousand people waiting for a new kidney die without getting one.


But an enterprising charity -- called SURVIVAL -- has been scoring a remarkable communications success. It's an ultra-orthodox Jewish organization, and its advertising and marketing concentrates on that community. And in the main the resulting donated kidneys go to fellow-Jews, again predominately to ultra-orthodox patients.

Their metrics are striking. As a percentage of the American population as a whole, ultra-orthodox Jews make up just about two tenths of one percent. But when it comes to live donated kidneys, they provide an extraordinary 17% of the entire national total. SURVIVAL has played a major role in that high score.

For some, this narrowly-targeted approach raises some questions of ethics, along the lines of "just how altruistic is it do donate a body-part, if the gift will go only toward another member of your own affinity group?" This moral unease, in some quarters, hasn't prevented other communities of faith and ethnicity from wanting to take a leaf out of the ultra-orthodox Jews' book.

I've just produced a report for PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly broadcast, along with correspondent Lucky Severson, that examines SURVIVAL's impressive record, and includes the new, but still nascent, preparations among African-American Baptists for starting their own affinity-based donation program.

Watch our report here:

This stirring among African-Americans is especially welcome, since as a community they suffer disproportionately from kidney diseases -- and at the same time they are among the least forthcoming of communities when it comes to donating. This is ascribed in large part to a pervasive suspicion of medical institutions, deriving -- perhaps very understandably -- from some notorious scandals, like the Tuskegee syphilis experiments conducted on black men.

Dr Anthony Watkins, an African-American transplant surgeon who features in our report, happens to be a congregation member at New York's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church. That church's strong reputation for progressive engagement with vital social issues, under its pastor Rev Calvin O Butts III, augurs well for a whole new approach to recruiting back kidney donors. It is desperately needed.

The graphic at the head of this article, by the way -- bringing together African-Americans and Jews who are all involved in kidney transplantation -- is an example of an eye-catching new way to illustrate issues in an internet setting - with a creative precision that's unusual in many viral memes. The moving GIF is by artist Cary Miller, with Come Alive Images. For me, it's a fresh mode to watch out for, right across the web.

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