ABU DHABI // Five hospitals equipped to handle organ donations will next month begin a programme of organ transplants from deceased donors after a change in the law last year.
Hospital staff will ask the families of patients who die in intensive care if their relative would donate his or her organs after death, as part of a major drive to establish a national transplant programme.
More than 100 doctors and nurses have been trained as part of the process that will begin next month. The hospitals involved are equipped to perform transplants as part of a wider effort to encourage more members of the public to become donors.
The initiative takes advantage of the new law that allows hospitals to remove organs from deceased individuals. Before the change such a move would have been illegal. It is thought only a handful of such operations have been carried out since the change in the law.
Dr Ali Obaidli, chair of the National Transplant Committee, said having trained medics speak to families of dying patients face to face provided the best chance of a successful donation.
“In any country in the world, less than 1 per cent of total deaths are suitable to be donors, but a single death can save the lives of many, with different organs donated to several individuals,” he said.
Dr Obaidli said education was key to the success of the initiative and that it was important people were aware of the system’s existence.
“Once they become aware, then they will get the opportunity to ask questions,” he said.
“Across the UAE, 110 experts have been trained in the science of organ donations and will be further trained – this makes us further optimistic for when we begin transplants that the UAE will have a sustainable organ donation programme.”
Donor hospitals are usually major hospitals with intensive care units, such as Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Al Rahba, Al Mafraq and Tawam.
In the event of a donor death, the patient’s organs would be available to those on the transplant list, Emiratis and expats.
“To have a high rate of donations, you need a strong culture of donation among the population, a strong medical infrastructure and a strong insurance system – these are strengths that are both available in the UAE,” Dr Obaidli said.
“We think that with great partnerships with key organisations like the Cleveland Clinic, the UAE has what it takes to have one of the best organ donation programmes, not just to serve the UAE, but the region.”
Along with direct approaches to families in hospital, officials are also looking at how other countries register donors, including by carrying a donor card or opting into the scheme with their driving licence or Emirates ID.
Dr Obaidli gave the example of Spain, the world leader in organ donation. Its success in finding organs lies partly in the fact doctors presume consent unless otherwise stated, although the family of a donor can still object. Such a scheme is not yet being considered here.
There are currently about 2,000 patients in the UAE on dialysis, and each one is a potential candidate for a new kidney.
Last year, the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences successfully carried out the first organ transplant surgery from a dead donor in collaboration with Mediclinic City Hospital.
The organ went to a 29-year-old Emirati woman who suffered kidney failure because of diabetes.
In addition, only about 200 operations from live donors have been carried out at SKMC in the past decade – all kidney operations involving donors willing to part with one.
Dr Farhad Janahi, assistant professor at MBRU’s College of Medicine and consultant urologist at Mediclinic said the change in the law and the associated programme would save lives.
“Some people don’t want to take a kidney from their loved ones or they don’t have a matching donor, so there is shortage of organs from living donors and others are left only with donations from deceased donors,” he said.
“Now we can procure organs from a deceased donor. The UAE is a nation where we are used to giving and doing good deeds for each other – and the UAE in particular has a high number of expatriates who are used to organ donation programmes.”
But he said the decision to allow a donation was a difficult one for any family, especially if they are not fully informed about the donation system.
“It all depends on the approach – the person has to be well trained to be able to convince them that yes, it is a tragedy, you have lost a loved one, but something good can come out of it and this might even help with their grief to see how it has helped several people.”
MBRU itself has held training for 50 intensive-care staff.
“No one is forced to consent and there is absolutely no pressure. It is a difficult time for some people but it can also be a consolation,” he said.