The decision by the Ministry of Health to list organ donor status on Emirates ID cards under the National Programme for Organ Transplantation is indicative of the UAE's rapid progress in the field. Just six months ago, organ donation in this country was somewhat inadequate, forcing residents and Emiratis to travel abroad for treatment. As The National reported in 2014, many risked illegal transplants in Egypt and China; some returned with life-threatening infections, open wounds or rejected organs. Since last September, the ongoing transformation has been profound. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has performed the country's first lung, liver and heart transplants from deceased donors, unthinkable just two years ago. Today, three other medical facilities, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Dubai's Mediclinic City Hospital and Al Jalila Children's Speciality Hospital are all licensed to conduct transplants. The life of an Emirati father of six was saved this month when he received a liver transplant. Just two weeks later he was happy and healthy at home, extolling the virtues of this country's transplant drive.
However, as these pages detailed last week, operation numbers have not reflected the UAE's advanced capabilities. While survey data shows openness to the practice, transplants have generally been dependent on hospital staff asking permission from grieving relatives. With a nascent donation culture and no comprehensive database, prospective donors were telephoning hospitals to express their interest. Efficiency is crucial in organ transplantation, where doctors must act within hours. It is for this reason that the Ministry of Health's latest announcement is so important. Now, anyone wishing to be a donor can register with their Emirates ID. In addition, Friday sermons and school curriculums will raise the issue of donation. The Zayed Charity Marathon this year will be held in support of organ donation.
Underpinning the decision is a recognition that we carry too many cards – from driving licences to health insurance cards to our Emirates IDs. Integrating different services onto a single card is safer and more efficient. In the case of organ donation, it will allow hospitals to quickly ascertain a patient’s donor status, boosting their ability to save lives. The UAE has acted quickly, building a database from scratch that will relieve all those in need of a transplant.