Shedding stigma, cadaver donation catching up in Kerala

Personal inhibitions and religious reasons once stopped people from donating their organs but cadaver donation is steadily catching up in Kerala with state agencies expecting the number of donors to touch 70 this year.

Thiruvananthapuram: Personal inhibitions and religious reasons once stopped people from donating their organs but cadaver donation is steadily catching up in Kerala with state agencies expecting the number of donors to touch 70 this year.

The number of donors has crossed the 36 mark since January this year and it is expected to go upto around 70 in the coming months, Health department officials said.
Vital organs of as many as 138 brain dead persons have been harvested and transplanted in needy patients in the last four years in Kerala.

The latest in the list of donors is a three-year-old baby girl, whose parents donated her liver, kidneys and cornea after the toddler was declared brain dead by doctors at a hospital here last week.

The heart of a city-based brain-dead lawyer airlifted to Kochi and transplanted within hours in an ailing patient also created waves in the state which is slowly waking up to the concept.

Besides those who come forward expressing desire to donate their organs post death, the number of families showing readiness to donate the organs of their dear ones, who are declared brain dead, is also on the rise in the state.

According to Kerala Network of Organ Sharing (KNOS), a state government initiative launched under its ambitious 'Mrithasanjeevani' programme, nine people donated their vital organs in the state in 2012, the year when the programme was launched, 36 donors in 2013, 58 in 2014 and 36 in 2015 (till early August).

The number of cadaver donors is expected to go upto 70 this year, KNOS nodal officer, Dr Noble Gracious said, "Cadaver donation and transplantation was not popular in the state till some years ago. Even in the case of live donors, people had inhibition about the risk involved in the transplantation process," he told PTI.

"But, now there is a constant increase in the number of organ donations taking place in the state in the last four years, thanks to the initiatives of the government and wide publicity given by the media," he said.

The increasing number of success stories of transplantations also persuades more people to register with the programme to donate their organs, Dr Gracious said.

On the lines of Tamil Nadu government's organ donation initiative, the Kerala Health Department had launched its Deceased Donor Organ Transplantation Programme in August 2012.

An Online Transplant Registry had been created under the programme to maintain records of patients on waiting list for kidney, liver, heart and pancreas transplants in the state.

Patients, waiting for organ transplantation from various hospitals that are authorised to perform transplantations, register their cases in the registry.

Dr Gracious said the programme's main objective was to give hapless patients suffering from irreversible organ ailments a chance to lead a healthy life.

"Needy persons can register directly in our site and wait for their turn. There is no preference or privilege for anyone. The recipients are selected according to first come first basis in the list," he said.

Kidney and liver are the most donated and transplanted organs in the state, he said.

While 248 kidneys have been donated in the state since 2012, as many as 101 livers, 16 hearts, eight hands and two pancreas and small intestine each during the period, he said.

Akhil Nath M S, who underwent a transplant under the Mrithasanjeevani programme, said though he had inhibitions about the surgery before, he has no particular health issues after the surgery.

"A kidney was transplanted on me two years ago. Though my mother donated her kidney initially, it had failed. So, I had to wait for some time to get a matching kidney. I received a suitable one after six times of cross matching," he told PTI.

Dr Gracious said logistics also a factor while selecting the recipient. 

"We cannot simply transport many organs to very distant places. Seeking to meet the logistics issues, we divide the state as three zones-south, north and centre. The distance also becomes a factor when we select the recipients from the list," Dr Gracious said.

The government also recently announced that they had plans to start an air-ambulance to airlift the harvested organs to the respective destinations.
The involvement of public sector hospitals is the speciality of organ donation programme in Kerala.

"Organ transplantations were once the exclusive forte of corporate private hospitals. But, in Kerala, around 80 transplantations have been held in government hospitals alone in very short period," he said.

This has also given a ray of hope to ordinary persons who were earlier unable to afford the huge transplantation costs, prompting them to register more in the government programme, he said.

The health expert said private hospital charge 5-6 fold more for organ transplantation surgeries compared to government hospitals. The increasing number of authorised transplantation centres was also a positive sign in terms of cadaver donation and transplantation, he added.  

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