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The gift of life

Aarti Dhar
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Lack of awareness is the biggest hurdle in cadaver donations for needy patients

Saving lives:An awareness rally on organ donation.Photo: K. Murali Kumar
Saving lives:An awareness rally on organ donation.Photo: K. Murali Kumar

 It was, perhaps, just a coincidence that a banner on organ donation in a city hospital caught the attention of Himanshu Agarwal as the doctor waited with his wife for news about his mother-in-law who was admitted in a critical condition last month.

The doctors had given up hope on the patient’s survival. Touched by the banner message, the couple were instantaneous in their decision of donating the organs of their beloved if untoward news came about. And finally when the doctors broke the shattering news that the patient was brain dead, the Agarwal couple mentioned organ donation. The hospital was more than happy to hear this and immediately got in touch with MOHAN Foundation (Multi Organs Harvesting Aid Network), which creates awareness about organ donation.

“We thought convincing my father-in-law would be difficult, but he was very prompt in his decision. He said it would be good if his wife’s organs were used for saving lives,” Dr Agarwal told The Hindu .

After the required tests were conducted, two corneas, two kidneys and liver were removed from the brain dead person and transplanted in the patients who were awaiting the organs. “We informed the relatives and now they have also accepted the idea. The priest in the temple during the prayers also made a mention of our decision to donate organs,” Dr Agarwal said.

In order to make the process of organ donation from brain dead people less cumbersome, the Transplantation of Human Organs (Amendment) Act, 2011 was passed by Parliament last year. It expanded the scope of ‘near relatives’ who could be donors to grandparents and allows swapping. It includes ‘tissue’ donation also. The amended law also seeks to register ‘retrieval centres’ and simplify the procedure for a brain death certification.

“Lack of awareness along with myths and misconceptions add to the low percentage of organ donation. Importantly, we also need better infrastructure and trained person who can certify brain dead persons and counsel the families,” Pallavi Kumar, Executive Director of MOHAN Foundation, explained.

States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Karnataka have far larger number of organ donations than the northern States, particularly Delhi. “It is primarily the issue of sensitisation,’’ said Samiran Nundy, chairman, Surgical Gastro and Liver Transplant, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

Dr Nundy feels that people just don’t want to do enough for society. India has 28 centres where liver transplants can be done but lack donors. “It’s all about civic sense,” he felt.

There is a huge shortage of organs in India and patients die while on the waiting list as they do not get an organ on time. Around 7.85 million people suffer from chronic kidney failure in the country. At present the approximate prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease is 800 per million population (PMP), and the incidence of end-stage kidney disease is 150-200 PMP. Nearly 3,500 transplants are done annually as against the need for 210,000 kidney transplants.

The death of Union Science and Technology Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, has once again, drawn the attention towards the lack of awareness on organ donation in the country. Every year, close to six lakh people die due to organ failure. Conversely, with 70 per cent of India's 1.4 lakh accident victims diagnosed as brain dead annually, the country has 80,000 potential organ donors. Yet, organs from only about 120 are retrieved, making the percentage of cadaver donations a dismal 0.08 per million of the population, according to MOHAN Foundation.  


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