Physicians are urging Taiwanese to give more thought to organ donation, especially kidneys, as there is a critical shortage of donors, with patients theoretically having to wait up to 30 years for a transplant.
Lee Po-chang (李伯璋), chairman of the Taiwan Organ Registry and Sharing Center (TORSC), spoke about the situation yesterday.
Kidney transplants have a high success rate and it is the oldest major organ transplant operation, he said.
Lee said that there are around 70,000 people on kidney dialysis in Taiwan, 10 percent of whom are waiting for a kidney transplant.
“Kidney donations from deceased donors amount to around 200 each year. In other countries, the waiting list for a kidney is around three to five years. However, the waiting period is up to 30 years in Taiwan,” he said.
The increase in kidney failure and other renal diseases is due to the prevalence of high blood pressure, cardiovascular illnesses and diabetes.
Government statistics show that the patients on kidney dialysis in Taiwan account for 11 percent of national health insurance payouts every year.
Lee said clinical studies by the American Society for Nephrology concluded that people who require kidney dialysis should be given priority consideration for kidney transplants.
“In other countries, about half the patients undergoing kidney dialysis will register for donations. However, we have pushed on this issue for many years, but only 10 percent of these patients in Taiwan register for kidney transplant operation,” he said.
“Kidneys are the most difficult organ to wait for [in Taiwan],” TORSC deputy chief executive officer Liu Chia-chi (劉嘉琪) said.
Liu said 229 deceased individuals donated kidneys last year, contributing significantly to the total of 244 kidneys donated for transplants.
However, there are up to 7,000 patients waiting for a kidney every year.
“Hearts, livers, lungs, pancreases and other organs are also in short supply, but the waiting lists for these are relatively short,” Liu said.
However, for a kidney, the waiting list is very long,” he said.
Lee said he is worried about the situation as kidney donations from deceased people are limited, although, family members and direct blood relatives can act as living kidney donors.
“Because kidney dialysis is prevalent, donating a kidney is worrisome for many Taiwanese,” Lee said.
“As such, there are less than 100 individuals willing to be living kidney donors each year,” he added.
Only those in very good health can pass the medical assessment for approval to be a living kidney donor and, as such, the procedure does not impact the health or longevity of the donors, Lee said.
Lee emphasized that kidney transplants have a long history and a 95 percent success rate. In addition, the transplant success rate is higher for kidneys from living donors.
“After receiving a kidney transplant, patients on dialysis no longer need to spend the vast amount of time, money and effort for dialysis. Their five-year survival rate would be boosted from 55 percent to 90 percent. Even if they might have to take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of their lives, the cost is covered under the national health insurance,” Lee said.