Expert surgeon says India should promote organ donation

India should give more stress to kidney transplants as they save lives and reduce healthcare costs to a great extent, Ernst Wolner, former Head of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department of the Medical University of Vienna, says.

Prof. Wolner, who inaugurated a national-level symposium on heart failure at the Dr. K.M. Cherian Heart Foundation Centre in Thiruvalla a couple of days ago, spoke to The Hindu about the increasing demand for organ transplants in modern times.

He said India had numerous renal failure cases. A transplanted kidney could extend the life of an otherwise healthy patient by as long as 20 years. Transplantation was much cheaper than dialysis in the long run.

He said the General Hospital in Vienna used to do 1,200 kidney transplants a year; an average 120 organ transplants took place in the U.S. daily.

Prof. Wolner commended the healthcare standards maintained by various hospitals in Kerala, which he said were much better than the average national standards.

He said State spending on public healthcare in the U.S. was 10 per cent of its Gross National Product, whereas in India, it was merely one per cent.

“In the U.S., 99 per cent of the patients are covered under public health insurance and 10 per cent of the salary there goes to health insurance, which covers more or less everything, placing little burden on the patient for his or her healthcare needs. India too can adopt such kind of a public healthcare support system in the larger interest of ensuring better healthcare to all,” he said.

Prof. Wolner, who, along with his colleagues, had developed the Vienna Artificial Heart, a pulsatile artificial ventricle which was successfully used as total artificial heart and left ventricular assist device in the 1980s, said a shortage of donor hearts had been a main problem even in developed countries.

He said the difficulty in finding donors in end-stage conditions and poor awareness of the importance of organ transplants, coupled with the hefty costs involved, were identified as the main reasons for not many people thinking of a heart or lung transplant in India.

Prof. Wolner said it was high time India promoted organ donation systems in all major hospitals. There should also be a proper system to collect the organs of a brain-dead person and take them to transplantation centres in a time-bound fashion through “green corridors.”

“Organ transplantation is not at all a medical challenge today as a resident doctor can very well do it,” he said.

Prof. Wolner said 140 heart and lung transplants take place in the General Hospital in Vienna alone every year. India reportedly had five million heart failure patients but had to its credit only 43 heart transplants so far.