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Abu Dhabi: Organ transplant programmes in the UAE have made giant strides over the last few years, with the number of transplants between living related members growing, and the first successful deceased donor transplants in the country. But top doctors in the country have said there is still a long way to go.

The most important thing needed is the establishment of a nationwide donor registry and a coordinated transplant list that will connect donors, health care facilities and transplant patients across the country, they said.

“The UAE needs more donors, and this can only happen if transplant centres receive more referrals for brain-dead donors from health care facilities across the country,” Dr Mohammad Al Seiari, consultant transplant nephrologist at Shaikh Khalifa Medical City, told Gulf News.

The facility is the UAE’s first transplant centre, and has offered transplants between living related donors since 2008.

The UAE needs more donors, and this can only happen if transplant centres receive more referrals for brain-dead donors from health care facilities.”

 - Dr Mohammad Al Seiari | Shaikh Khalifa Medical City

Echoing this sentiment is Dr Rakesh Suri, chief executive officer at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, which holds the distinction of hosting the country’s only multi-organ transplant programme.

“We have accomplished all four major solid organ transplants within three years of the hospital’s launch, and this is a major milestone. But we do not yet have access to a robust organ procurement network.

“Most developed nations with multi-organ transplant centres maintain a list of transplant patients, ranked according to their needs, and match them with possible donors. And this is what has to happen in the UAE,” Dr Suri added.

Transplants on the rise

As a government facility, Shaikh Khalifa Medical City has been the first hospital to offer organ transplants. Till date, it is the only health care centre that offers transplants for both adults and children.

27 patients have benefitted thus far from deceased donors

“Last year, a total of 35 kidney transplants, including five from deceased donors, were conducted. Since the new organ transplant law [allowing organ donation from deceased persons] came into effect, we have seen a lot of demand from across the country,” Dr Al Seiari said.

The hospital currently has more than 150 patients on its transplant list, and the number is growing due to increased awareness about the UAE’s transplant capabilities.

“The most common reason patients seek transplants is kidney failure in conjunction with diabetes. In the US, about 20 per cent of dialysis patients would be candidates for transplants.

“If we could offer transplants to a similar proportion of patients in the UAE, the government’s health care costs would reduce considerably,” Dr Al Seiari said.

He explained that the Dh300,000 annual cost of dialysis for a single patient is covered by the government for Abu Dhabi residents. In contrast, the cost of the transplant, which is also offered by the government, would be a one-off payment of Dh250,000, and the cost of annual treatment afterward would drop to Dh50,000 per year.

“There are at least thousands of patients [in need], but we need a ranked list. For this, further collaboration is needed between hospitals, and with the National Transplant Committee and regional transplant bodies,” Dr Suri said.