The Ministry of Health announced on Sunday plans to list organ donor status on Emirates IDs under the new National Programme for Organ Transplantation.
No further details were revealed, such as when the option will be available, but the Ministry of Health said they wanted to “get the conversation started with Friday sermons on the importance of organ donations and it being incorporated in school curriculums”.
Dr Ali Al Obaidly, consultant transplant nephrologist and group chief academic affairs officer at Abu Dhabi Health Services, said: “What we want first is to get the dialogue started between family and friends”.
An organ transplant registry will be based in Dubai under the Ministry of Health.
And for the first time, organ donations and consent can be given by a fourth-degree relative – a first cousin.
Previously, donations were restricted to first degree relatives, assistant undersecretary of the Medical Practice and License Sector at MOH, Dr Amin Al Amiri, said.
Dr Al Amiri also said the MOH had developed a link with the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, which oversees the Emirates ID card. Now anyone wishing to be a donor can register for their database.
Individuals with special needs are not permitted to be live donors; however, they can donate their organs after death and with the consent of fourth degree relatives. This also applies to donors who are under the age of consent.
Four medical facilities have been licensed to conduct organ transplants: Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Mediclinic City Hospital in Dubai and Al Jalila Children's Specialty Hospital.
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Since the introduction of the organ transplant law in 2016, officials have announced that the lives of 22 individuals have been saved through the organs of six deceased donors. They donated 12 kidneys, three livers, four lungs, two hearts and a pancreas.
Dr Al Obaidli said that the first organ harvest was from a deceased patient at al-Qasimi hospital, where his organs helped save five lives. The second procedure was from Fujairah hospital, where harvested organs saved three lives. The third occasion saved three people and made the first heart transplant possible in the country. The fourth and youngest organ donation was at the Saudi German Hospital from a two-week-old girl – her parents donated her kidneys after her death.
“This reflects the depth of their humanity and desire to save another life,” the doctor said.
A liver was also transplanted to rescue a 60-year-old patient at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and it was the first liver transplant in the country. Lungs from the same donor were sent to a patient suffering from pulmonary failure in Saudi Arabia.
Dr Faisal Shaheen, director general of the Saudi Centre for Organ Transplantation, said the UAE has a successful and comprehensive organ transplant programme, significant because it means UAE nationals will not have to travel abroad for treatment or risk illegal organ transplants.
Health officials said that a number of Emiratis have returned with HIV and Hepatitis C viruses after undergoing transplants abroad. A number have also died following these transplants.
Brig Gen Hamad Ajlan Al Amimi, director-general of the Federal Criminal Police, said the Ministry contributed to the development of a comprehensive national strategy to combat human trafficking. They have plans, programs and mechanisms to support the victims, including a rehabilitation programme.
He said: “[The law] says the removal and trafficking of organs is a crime punishable by law as it can cause injury to the victim or illnesses that cannot be cured or can cause permanent disability.
Spain, one of the countries with the highest numbers of organ donors, has an opt-out system where every deceased person is automatically considered an organ donor unless they had left instructions before their death otherwise; however, such a system cannot be applied to Muslim countries, according to Hassan Al-Khanani, coordinator at the Saudi Centre for Organ Transplantation.
“We are an Islamic country and our understanding of donating is to willingly give ... we cannot force people to donate unless they want to. We have asked Islamic scholars and they preferred that it be that way.”
The Zayed Charity marathon will be held this year in support of organ donation.