‘Bengal to get India’s first transplant hospital’ – this headline grabbed attention as it heralded hope and optimism in a sea of despair. The hospital, which will be set up by 2015 could well change organ transplantation in India and smoothen matters in a country beset by mindnumbing fear and bureaucratic delays over this issue.
It needn’t be that way. India, with a population of over abillion should, in fact, have a ready supply of organs for its chronically ill. Speak to anyone waiting for an organ. Hear about his desperate search for a liver or a kidney, talk to a family crippled financially by repeated dialysis or see the tears of a mother whose child lies exhausted with liver disease. And then ask yourself – can I make his life better?
India’s figures for organ donation are shocking. It has 0.16 donors per million population (in 2012) compared to 35 for Spain, 27 for Britain and 26 for US. In India, 12 people die every day for want of an organ. Some 2.1 lakh require a kidney transplant annually, but only 3,000–4,000 get it.
It’s a crushing story of galloping demand and abysmal supply. The case of late Union minister for science and technology Vilasrao Deshmukh is an apt one. He suffered from liver cancer but passed away before he could get the organ.
According to guesstimates, there are almost 90,000 brain deaths annually – mostly due to road accidents. Experts say that 50% of all organ donation needs can be met by these casualties. So what is hindering donation? Lack of awareness, coupled with myths and superstitions. Often, families of brain–dead persons do not permit organ donation.
However, misconceptions can be overturned by media and relentless ad campaigns. Religious leaders can be roped in to talk about the benefits of organ donation. As for the government, it should set up a national registry for organ transplant on a priority basis.
Examples can be gleaned from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network of the US or UK Transplant Centre. It should make rules simpler so that organs of brain–dead patients can be harvested fast. Philanthropic organizations can pitch in to bear the humongous cost of transplants, while insurance companies can include this procedure among those that can be reimbursed.
But all is not bleak. There are heartening stories of swap transplants, incompatible donor transplants and donors, as young as three years, of Tamil Nadu being the best state in organ donation with more than 1,700 transplants since 2008.
You too can help. Sign up for a donor card to ensure that your organs – eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and pancreas – can be harvested after death. Can there be a bigger legacy to leave behind?
Or a better way to be a guardian angel?
Times of India
27 July 2013, New Delhi, India.