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Increasing organ donation in New Zealand

Increasing organ donation in New Zealand

Removing the financial disincentives faced by hospitals involved in organ transplantation, and breaking down the barriers faced by live organ donors, are two priorities in increasing the number of organ donations, according to Kidney Health New Zealand.

As a UK Government report makes headlines with a raft of recommendations aimed at increasing the number of organ donors by 50% in five years, Kidney Health New Zealand (KHNZ) calls for a similar priority to be given to the issue here.

Professor Kelvin Lynn, Medical Director of KHNZ (formerly the New Zealand Kidney Foundation), says there are messages within the report, ‘Organs for Transplants’, which New Zealand could learn from.

“Like New Zealand, the UK has a low rate of organ donation when compared to countries with similar cultures and economies,” says Professor Lynn, a nephrologist at Christchurch Hospital.

“Kidney transplantation is considerably cheaper than dialysis and affords a superior quality of life, so any opportunities to increase the donor rate must be seen as a priority.”

Among the report’s recommendations is the issue of hospitals involved in transplantation not getting the appropriate funding.

“There are significant disincentives for hospitals in New Zealand which carry out transplants. There is no national pricing for the care of donors, kidney transplant surgery or post operative care, which disadvantages transplanting hospitals,” says Professor Lynn.

Maintaining New Zealand’s trained workforce of transplant co-ordinators, surgeons and skilled nursing staff is critical, and Professor Lynn says it is important for the Government to recognise that these staff work in a global market and would be able to earn a far greater income overseas.

The UK report focuses on increasing deceased organ donation, and makes little mention of live organ donation.

However Professor Lynn says this area also needs attention to increase the number of kidney transplants in New Zealand.

Recently released figures from the Australia and New Zealand Dialysis and Transplant Registry show that in 2006 a total of 41 patients received a kidney from a deceased donor, while 49 transplants were carried out using a kidney from a live donor.

“More than half of the kidney transplants done in New Zealand now come from live donors,” says Professor Lynn.

“Live donor transplantation has better results than deceased donor transplantation and there is considerable community support for live donation.

“Even in countries with the highest organ donation rates, live donation of kidneys is still necessary and there needs to be serious discussion around how we can support and help those individuals who wish to be live donors.”

Currently there are a number of barriers faced by potential live donors, including delays in getting investigations needed for clinical assessment, and difficulties in access to the operating theatre because of competition from other elective surgery.

“In addition, live donors often face financial barriers from having to take time off work or from their business. While there is some payment, equivalent to the sickness benefit, this is not enough for many people,” says Professor Lynn.

Kidney transplantation is the most effective and cost-efficient treatment for kidney failure.

The average cost over the first three years of a kidney transplant is $85,000 – half the cost of hospital dialysis over the same period. By investing in initiatives to increase the number of live donors, Kidney Health New Zealand believes the Government will save money in the long-term and improve the lot of kidney patients.


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