Abu Dhabi: The UAE facilitated 147 organ transplants last year and was one of the few countries to enable transplants from a patient who succumbed to COVID-19, a top transplant official said.
“The UAE is quick to adopt the latest health standards and its agile health-care systems enabled interventions even during the pandemic. In fact, we were able to harvest a liver and two kidneys from a COVID-19 positive patient after proving that it was safe to transplant these organs,” Dr Ali Al Obaidli, head of the National Transplantation and Organ Donation Committee, told Gulf News.
“In fact, we were able to facilitate 35 organ transplantations in 2020 from nine donors, and 147 organ donations from 39 people in 2021 alone — compared to just five donors [when we launched the deceased donor organ transplantation programme] in 2017. We are now approaching the stage where we can establish a disease registry to determine a waiting list for organs and a point at which we can encourage residents to exercise their right to pledge organs,” he added.
The official was speaking on the sidelines of a two-day conference 'Applying Best Practices and Hospital Ranking System for Organ Donation', in which transplant experts from various countries met health professionals in the UAE to further strengthen the country’s transplantation programme.
Deceased donor laws
The UAE first enacted its deceased donor transplantation law in 2017 and has since saved the lives of 303 people in the region through organ transplants. This includes 11 transplants since the start of 2022.
Like in the rest of the world, kidneys were the most transplanted organ, with 138 kidneys donated in the UAE, followed by 58 livers, 12 hearts, seven pancreas and six lungs. While many of these organs have been transplanted into recipients in the UAE, others have been transferred to patients in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan as part of an organ sharing mechanism.
The UAE has five organ transplantation centres and Dr Al Obaidli said any hospital with an intensive care unit can work to donate organs. In fact, health authorities in the nation are currently working to facilitate organ donation and transplantation rankings for hospitals, which will look into factors such as the training of professionals, teamwork, the ability to connect with a patient’s family and grief management systems.
“Only about one per cent of total deaths present an opportunity for organ transplantation, and even this may not be possible if a hospital is not adequately prepared. This ranking tool will therefore be a tool for hospitals to assess resources,” Dr Al Obaidli said.
“We are also working to increase the reach of awareness programmes, which educate residents about the importance of preventing organ failure. By staying healthy and exercising, residents can protect their own organs, which helps make donor organs available to those who need them the most,” Al Obaidli said.
Another facet of this programme deals with increasing familiarity with the organ donation registry app, the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention’s ‘Hayat’ app. “Organ donation is a lifesaving act and we will soon urge residents to register as organ donors,” he said.
Fastest-growing transplant rate
Dr Marti Manyalich, a foremost organ transplantation expert from Spain, which boasts of one of the world’s highest rates of transplantation in the world, said the UAE’s rate of transplants is growing at one of the fastest rates. Dr Manyalich is also head of the Transplant Procurement Management educational programme, which has trained 12,000 health professionals in organ transplantation procedures over the last decade.
“Residents should also understand the value of transplantation: An organ transplant guarantees more years of healthy life than other available treatments, such as a kidney transplant, in comparison to dialysis,” he explained.
UAE transplants in figures:
303 organ transplants since 2017
147 transplants in 2021 from 39 donors
35 transplants in 2020 from nine donors
11 transplants in 2022