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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Organ donation could save thousands of lives – but a national database is needed first

Attitudes towards donation are changing in this country. It’s time practices caught up

Dr Rakesh Suri, CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, speaks at a press conference to launch the UAE's first multi-organ transplant programme. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dr Rakesh Suri, CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, speaks at a press conference to launch the UAE's first multi-organ transplant programme. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Today Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi launched the UAE’s first multi-organ transplant initiative – a major step towards a comprehensive organ donation programme. Despite the excellent medical infrastructure in this country, there is still work to be done. It is the nascent culture of organ donation that has historically created a disparity between donors and those in need. Less than 12 months after a royal decree permitting deceased donor transplants however, things are changing. According to a recent survey, 68 per cent of individuals in this country support organ donation. Over the past six months, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi performed the first liver, lung, kidney and heart transplants from deceased donors. With 1,100 people on dialysis – not to mention heart and lung disease sufferers – there is an urgent need to spread awareness and foster a donation culture in the UAE.

Organ donation in this country has a complex history. While Sheikh Zayed paved the way for the programme with a royal decree in 1993, the first kidney transplant on an Emirati only took place in 2010 due to cultural and religious considerations, and debate over the definition of death. Recent changes mandated by royal decree and legislation have progressively smoothed the process. But current procedures are less than ideal as they require hospital staff to gain permission from the grieving relatives of those who die in intensive care. Only a handful of transplants have taken place since last year’s legal change. Discussions are ongoing about how to increase donor numbers, and how prospective donors can register – be it with their emirates ID or a special card. As The National reported, Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre is receiving daily calls from prospective donors. Adding them to a database should be the first priority.

With thousands of patients on waiting lists, their lives dependent on a transplant, a database would allow benevolent citizens and residents to aid their fellow citizens. In December the heart and kidneys of one deceased donor saved three lives, including a child. Not so long ago, Emirati citizens were forced to travel abroad for vital transplants. Considering the great recent strides, organ donation in the UAE could save thousands of lives. A comprehensive database cannot come soon enough.