· The dismal donation rate of 0.86 per million people needs to be drastically improved
New Delhi, August 12, 2023
On the occasion of World Organ Donation Day, experts from leading healthcare institutions across India have come together to highlight the urgent need to increase the rate of cadaver donations in the country. Despite notable progress in the field of organ transplantation, India continues to grapple with a significant demand-supply gap, with a dismal donation rate of 0.86 per million people.
In the land of Sage Dadhichi, where the act of donating organs saved the lives of Devas, it is disheartening to witness the persistent scarcity of organs, a significant gap hindering the progress in saving precious lives, according to the experts.
India faces the lowest rate of organ donation worldwide, with a mere 0.1 percent of the population donating their organs after death, in stark contrast to 70-80 percent of people in Western countries who pledge to do so.
Dr. L K Jha, Director and Senior Consultant – Nephrology and Kidney Transplant at Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital Delhi, shed light on the obstacles hindering organ donation and transplantation. He emphasized the importance of recognizing the potential of organ donation from brain-dead individuals, capable of saving multiple lives. Dr. Jha urged the nation to dispel myths and superstitions surrounding brain death, which have resulted in the wastage of precious organs. He highlighted the staggering statistics, revealing that India loses around 2 lakh kidneys and other vital organs annually, underscoring the need for collective efforts to increase cadaver donations.
“If we properly harvest even 5%–10% of all brain deaths for organ donation, it could render the need for living donors obsolete,” Dr Jha emphasized.
Dr. Prashant Jain, Sr. Consultant & Head of the Department of General Urology & Andrology, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC), New Delhi, stressed the urgency of improving the abysmal donation rate of 0.86 per million people.
“Essentially, we need to focus on cadaveric donation- a generous act of donating organs, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and pancreas, from individuals who are declared brain-dead. The transplantation of these vital organs has the potential to save up to nine lives. To address the substantial annual demand for organ transplants, it is imperative for India to actively promote and streamline the process of cadaveric donations,” recommended Dr. Prashant Jain.
In the post-COVID era, there has been a notable resurgence in transplant activities, and the country achieved a milestone by surpassing 15,000 transplants in 2022. This marked a remarkable annual increase of 27% in transplant numbers, according to the Union Health Ministry. However, societal reservations remain a significant obstacle, hindering organ donation and transplant initiatives.
Among the 15,000 transplants performed in 2022, kidney transplants accounted for a lion’s share of 11,423 procedures. This number pales in comparison to an estimated 200,000 cases of renal failure each year. Similar patterns can be observed in liver, heart, and pancreatic transplants, where demand far exceeds supply. While there has been some progress in harvesting organs from deceased donors, with the average number of transplants per donor increasing from 2.43 in 2016 to 3.05 in 2022, it is still insufficient. For instance, only 250 patients received heart transplants, a striking contrast to the estimated requirement of 50,000.
With over 200,000 Indians in need of organ transplants annually, the current situation demands a unified national policy to address the critical issue effectively. The experts emphasized the need to focus on cadaveric donation and underscored the potential to streamline the process for increased organ availability.
“Out of the 12,387 organs harvested in 2021, which included kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, and pancreas, only 14%, were procured from deceased donors. The current situation demands urgent action as the country grapples with an organ famine. Tragically, lakhs of lives are lost every year due to the non-availability of organs, with approximately two lakh people succumbing to liver disease and thousands of patients due to heart disease,” said Dr. Sumit Gahlawat, Senior Consultant – Urology and Renal Transplant, Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Gurugram, emphasizing that “ Let us honour the spirit of Sage Dadhichi by embodying the selfless act of giving, and by doing so, we can ensure that the gift of life is available to all those who desperately seek it.”
The experts collectively called for a nationwide effort to increase cadaver donations, highlighting the potential to bridge the demand-supply gap and save countless lives. They emphasized the need for public awareness campaigns, education, and policy initiatives to address the organ famine and ensure that the life-saving gift of organ donation reaches those in dire need.