It's a little too late for those who have died waiting for a kidney, but at least the government has finally woken up to the acute shortage of organ donors in the country.
Incentives would now be given to people who donate the organs of their loved ones after they have been declared brain-dead. Among the benefits for wife, child or parents of the deceased are life and health insurance cover, discounts in train travel and preferred status in organ transplant waiting list.
The black market for kidneys is booming and here’s why: of the 1.5 lakh people who suffer end-stage kidney failure each year and needed a transplant, barely 3,500 were lucky enough to find a donor.
“Voluntary donations need to be encouraged to make organ transplant easy for genuine patients,” said Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss. “These recommendations will encourage voluntary organ donations from the families of people who have been declared brain dead and we will notify the final rules soon.”
To prevent organ trafficking, the Transplant of Human Organs Act allows transplantations to be done only in hospitals registered with the government, live transplants only from near-relatives, such as the father, mother, brother, sister, children or spouses.
Cadaver and altruistic donations are allowed, with each case screened by the transplant centre’s authorisation committee with government representatives to ensure that they were not forced or paid to donate.
But with altruistic donations reeking of monetary exchange and only a handful of cadaver donations taking place, the chances of a patient finding a matching donor are slim.
The health ministry is setting up an Organ Retrieval and Banking Organisation (ORBO), similar to the one at the All India Institute of Medial Sciences, in all the metros, beginning with Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai this year, and followed by Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Guwahati and Lucknow. The ORBO centres will coordinate swift retrieval, storage and transplantation off organs across all hospitals approved to do transplants in the city.
The health ministry has also proposed that post-mortems will be conducted round-the-clock in all government hospitals so that healthy organs can be harvested quickly from brain-dead patients. "Currently, most post-mortems are done during the day, and this loss of crucial time often makes organs unusable," said Ramadoss.
The heart, intestines, kidneys, lungs, liver, pancreas and cornea (eyes) can be procured from brain-dead donors, along with tissues such as bones, tendons, veins and skin grafts.
The ministry's recommendations are based on the Report Of Transplant of Human Organs Act Review Committee it set up after the Delhi High Court directed it to review the provisions of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 and the Transplantation of Human Organs Rules, 1995. The committee was chaired by the current election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, who was then with the union ministry of health.
"We need more voluntary donations because kidney rackets will happen only if there is an acute shortage of organs. I understand the government has accepted our report in toto and we hope to see a compete policy based on it soon," said Dr Quraishi.
The only shortcoming of the report, he said, is that it does not consider illegal organ trade to other countries. "I must confess we could not even imagine foreigners coming and walking way with poor people's kidneys," he said.
The Quraishi report had been filed to the Union Health Ministry in May 2005, and though a second round of consultations followed with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation on May 18, 2007, the recommendations still remain on paper.