Although they constitute only 13 percent of the U.S. population, African-Ameri-cans account for 32 percent of patients treated for kidney failure, according to the 2002 report by the U.S. Renal Data System.
Diabetes is the main clinical cause of renal failure, followed by hypertension.
A family history of kidney disease also puts people at risk, says Andrew Levey, professor of medicine at Tufts School of Medicine and chief of nephrology at the New England Medical Center of Boston.
"Whenever there are racial differences [in a disease], people always suspect genetic factors," he says. "People with a relative with kidney failure are more apt to have kidney disease than those without it -- and this appears to be stronger in blacks than in whites."
In addition to being more vulnerable to renal failure, blacks must wait longer for transplants. Although the number of African-Americans who have signed up to be organ donors has increased, the majority of donors is white.
Organ recipient Rhonda DeLaremore, community-relations manager for the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland, teaches people the facts -- and myths -- about organ donation.
Many potential donors mistrust the medical community, worrying that doctors might not try to save their lives as vigorously if they are organ donors. Others believe their particular religion forbids organ donation. All major organized religions, including Jehovah's Witnesses, respect the decision to become an organ donor, DeLaremore says.
She attributes the continuing reluctance of African-Americans to become donors mostly to a fear of the medical establishment that mistreated blacks in such scandals as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
DeLaremore, who is African-American, has received two kidneys from living donors: one from her sister and one from a white colleague. She is making plans to receive her third from a friend who is white. "Because of the advances in medical technology, it is not as important now to have a perfect match for each recipient," she says. "As long as the blood types match, they don't have to be a tissue-type match."
Roughly 54,900 Americans are officially listed as waiting for kidneys. Of that number, roughly 19,560 are African-American, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplanta-tion Network.
DeLaremore will lead a discussion about organ donation and transplantation at 4 p.m. Thursday in Rouse Mini-Theatre in Columbia. For details about this free event, call 410-715-3089. For information about organ and tissue donation, call the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland at 800-641-4376.