x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

No more delay for organ transplants

Two recent cases, one with a happy ending and the other at risk of ending badly, show the need for more vigorous efforts to make progress toward a robust organ donation and transplant system for the UAE.

Organ transplantation is one of the happiest chapters in the history of medical science.

From the first kidney transplant in 1954 to the first heart replacement in 1967 to more recent full-face transplants, successive advances in this field have saved uncounted lives, and improved many more, around the world.

But the UAE has not kept pace with global progress in this area. This country's well-funded medical establishment and skilled cadre of specialists are still held back from providing the priceless transplant services that are almost common elsewhere.

A case recounted in our news pages today puts a face - so to speak - on the human costs of delay. Rhoniel Romano, a Filipino who has lived in Abu Dhabi since 2002, would in many countries be a prime candidate for a kidney transplant. In Europe, North America and elsewhere it is common for people to pre-authorise organ donation after death; a register matches people on waiting lists with records of donor deaths.

This same practice was authorised in the UAE as far back as 1993, and last May the Health Ministry finally filled in the details, most notably with a formal definition of brain death. At that point all the high hurdles had been cleared, it appeared. But a year later, some medical professionals are dismayed by the lack of progress in turning the law into a functioning system. In practice, organ transplants are currently limited to cases where there are volunteer donors, usually relatives.

Another example, one with a better storyline than Mr Romano's, has shown what is possible even under the current circumstances. Ali Abdullah of Dubai, 70 and blind in one eye since childhood, had very little vision in his good eye - until a corneal transplant this month; the day after the surgery he told his doctor "I can see!" Imagine his joy, and his family's. (It's worth remembering that transplants benefit not only recipients but their caregivers as well.)

What's noteworthy in that case is that the cornea had to be imported from the US, another illustration about how practical steps - including public awareness campaigns and organ-donor cards - need to be rolled out here with full vigour and no further delay. There is no good reason why people in the UAE should unnecessarily wait for transplants that save lives. Mr Romano would surely agree.