Photojournalists bring Clapton organ shortage to life

Clockwise from top left: Tilley Harris, Elena Heatherwick, Grace brighouse, Nana Adae-Amoakoh, Alex Pielak, Stephanie Broom Pic: Alex Pielak

A ‘real shortage’ in organ donations by ethnic communities will be the target of photo billboards in Hackney in the New Year.

Inexchange is the latest project by Clapton-based photojournalists Alex Pielak and Tilley Harris, which will use images of black and Asian patients who need organ donations to “tell their stories” across east London.

Pielak said: “We want to break down cultural barriers. All the major religions support donating organs, so we want to get people to think of it in a positive way.

“The NHS are desperate for more attention and awareness to be raised on this issue. We are trying to encourage more people to donate, while telling patients’ stories.”

Recent figures from the NHS Organ Donor Register estimate the need in these communities to be three to four times higher than that of the rest of the population.

Unfortunately, while the need in these communities remains high, rates of donation are relatively low which ultimately reduces the chance of a finding patients a successful donor match.

Professor Gurch Randhawa, director of the Institute for Health Research at the University of Bedfordshire is, a specialist on diabetes, kidney disease and transplantation and is the medical advisor for Inexchange.

He told Eastlondonlines that there is a greater need for kidney transplants among ethnic minorities because of higher rates of blood pressure and diabetes that can cause kidney failure.

“There is a need to engage with these communities so that they understand the severe shortage of organs from within their own communities, coupled with the high demand.

“The Inexchange project will provide these visible examples as widely as possible through photography, documentaries and posters. The life stories will reflect the different sections of the UK public.”

Human stories and the human condition are often at the centre of Pielak and Harris’ photography. Their previous projects have depicted a range of subjects, from ex-service men and women to body-builders with precarious relationships to steroids.

The pair have already received £5,000 in funding from the University of the Arts London for Inexchange. They are still in the process of gathering participants, and hope to have 12 patient stories on billboards by completion.

Their billboards will be displayed in different locations throughout Hackney for approximately two months. Eventually, the project may appear in other boroughs of London that have large black and Asian communities.

Randhawa said this issue is important for the UK as well as the international community as “many countries are seeking to increase the profile of organ donation, specifically among different faith and ethnic communities.”

“Making organ donation more common will only be possible if it becomes part and parcel of the narrative of UK society. This will be enhanced if there are visible examples of life stories highlighting donors, donor families and recipients life changing experiences.”

More information on the Black and Asian NHS Organ Donation Campaign can be found here

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