When non-Whiteness becomes a condition

Elsevier, Blood, Volume 137, 7 January 2021
Merz L.E., Achebe M.

The term “benign ethnic neutropenia” describes the phenotype of having an absolute neutrophil count (ANC) <1500 cells/mL with no increased risk of infection. It is most commonly seen in those of African ancestry.

Benign ethnic neutropenia (BEN) is a hereditary disorder characterized by a reduction in the number of neutrophils, a kind of white blood cell. This syndrome is frequent in persons of African and Middle Eastern origin, affecting around 25% of these communities. BEN is often asymptomatic and causes no health issues. It may, however, generate difficulty when interpreting laboratory test findings, leading to misdiagnosis and improper treatment.

Because of the influence it may have on medical diagnostics and therapies, BEN has been a hot issue in recent years. BEN was previously neglected as a probable cause of decreased neutrophil numbers in persons of African and Middle Eastern origin. Clinicians may have mistakenly concluded that the low numbers were caused by other illnesses, such as infections or autoimmune disorders. As a consequence, these people may have had needless testing and treatments, which may be both expensive and hazardous.

One of the difficulties with BEN is that it is often seen as a "condition" rather than a harmless genetic mutation. This may reinforce the notion that non-white people are essentially different from white people, which can lead to detrimental preconceptions and prejudices. The presence of BEN may be used to legitimize discriminatory behavior in medical settings in specific situations.

To overcome these difficulties, healthcare practitioners must be educated about the incidence of BEN and its possible influence on laboratory test findings. Clinicians should also be aware of the possibility of prejudice in medical decision-making and endeavor to eliminate these biases via continual training and education.

Finally, benign ethnic neutropenia is an essential subject for both healthcare practitioners and patients. We may endeavor to create more fair and effective healthcare for all persons, regardless of race or ethnicity, by increasing awareness of this illness and its potential influence on medical diagnosis and treatments.