More than 1,000 UAE residents and medical experts came together in the capital on Tuesday for a workshop on this summer’s introduction of donor registration.
The session, held at Al Raha Theatre, brought together medics, patients, volunteers and residents to talk about organ donation and to encourage more people to help.
The UAE has the lowest number of organs donated from deceased people and yet research shows that 68 per cent of the public support it.
Although organ donation is still in its early stages here, Dr Ali Al Obaidli, transplant nephrologist and chief academic affairs officer at Abu Dhabi Health Services, said that in Saudi Arabia the kidneys of a two-week-old baby were recently donated to a 48-year-old woman on dialysis.
“The baby weighed less than three kilograms,” Dr Al Obaidli said. “Her parents insisted that they wanted to contribute to saving other people’s lives. She died and made a huge impact.”
Less than 1 per cent of the general public are eligible donors because of strict requirements, he said.
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“There are no more than 400 to 500 eligible donors a year, which is why it is important for everyone to be part of the programme,” Dr Al Obaidli said. “But one donor can save eight lives.”
Around the world there are 10 million people with end-stage kidney failure and 50 per cent of patients on dialysis will die in their fifth year of treatment.
Of 10 patients on dialysis, only one will receive a transplant and the rest will either remain on dialysis or die because of a lack of organs.
Worldwide, organ transplants meet the needs of only 10 per cent of patients.
In the UAE, 22 people’s lives have been prolonged through organs from six deceased donors since the organ transplant law was introduced in 2016. They donated 12 kidneys, three livers, four lungs, two hearts and a pancreas.
But with 1,100 people on dialysis each year, doctors want to further promote a culture of donating organs among the public.
“There are many people with organ failure in this country so our job is to promote transplants and let people know that there are options available,” said Dr Mohammed Al Seiari, a nephrologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
A registration programme for those wishing to donate is expected to be introduced by the summer.
The programme will involve linking the option to each resident’s Emirates ID.
“It is very important for the community to be part of this,” said Dr Al Obaidli, chairman of the National Transplant Committee.
He said that while it is necessary to support the organ donation programme, prevention is also crucial.
“The number of people susceptible to organ failure is a lot higher that those with existing organ failure, so prevention is more of a priority,” Dr Al Obaidli said.
He warned the public to “avoid illegal and unauthorised organ transplants”.
“Many return with HIV or a life-threatening virus.”
Dr Faisal Shaheen, director general of the Saudi Centre for Organ Transplant, said that while a transplant programme was crucial, it was important to avoid causes of organ failure and kidney disease, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
“The problem in the region is that we don’t believe that we are sick until a problem surfaces,” Dr Shaheen said. This was “bad practice”.
The deceased donor list is open to Emiratis and residents.
Currently, hospital staff visit emergency units and approach families of eligible donors.