For several weeks, urologist Dr Sunil Shroff had meticulously planned a series of activities to create awareness for the Organ Donation Week starting August 8. But, what helped Dr Shroff more was series of unexpected events that unfolded that week after Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's arrival at a Chennai hospital on August 6. The need for more organ donation became the topic of discussion with the death of Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on Tuesday.
Deshmukh was waitlisted for a liver and a kidney which he never got. Among the incidents that spurred the discussion was a tweet by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi directing his officials to look for a cadaver organ for Deshmukh. Why are organs in short supply? When there are 130,000 fatalities due to road accident across the country, why is it that there are only less than 100 donors? How come the issue became so important when a minister needed an organ? Is transplant a hope only for an important person?
Dr Shroff, who runs the MOHAN (Multi-Organ Harvest Aid Network) Foundation, says it is sad that the minister died during the awareness week. "Nevertheless, it's a loud warning bell. It's time government took up awareness on cadaver donations. We have a law, but the awareness is extremely low," he says.
In the absence of nation-wide awareness programme, organ donation in India has always been a sloppy affair. Unlike in the West, there are many live donors in India, but only a few cadaver donors. Tamil Nadu is better off than other states. It has done the largest number of cadaver liver transplants in the country in the last four years.
"And that did not happen overnight," says Dr Shroff. Until 2008, Tamil Nadu came under severe flak from human rights activists for organ trafficking. The number organs from cadavers (brain-dead patients) was low. Organisations like MOHAN Foundation lobbied to put in place the cadaver transplant programme. In September 2008, when a doctor couple donated the vital organs of their teenage son A Hitendran, it had an electrifying effect. Since then 250 people have donated their organs.
Tamil Nadu has a cadaver registry which allots organs to a network of hospitals based on a patient waiting list, with matches made on the basis of blood group, organ size and urgency. "Tamil Nadu still has a long way to go," said liver transplant surgeon Dr R Surendran. "The supply of organs is smaller than the demand. Several people die waiting for an organ," he said.
The increasing incidence of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension that cause organ failures adds to the problem. Research has shown that patients with end-stage organ disease cannot survive for long without a transplant. That is what happened to Deshmukh, whose liver deteriorated rapidly. "We saw there was a small window of opportunity for Deshmukh because he was stable. But we knew that it may not last for long. We were desperate for a liver," said Global hospitals chairman Dr K Ravindranath.
This happens to every patient on the organ waiting list. Deshmukh's transplant surgeon Dr Mohamed Rela said, "I hope his death will stimulate governments to do more."
* Author: Pushpa Narayan
* News story courtesy TNN
* Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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