Seven in 10 residents said they would be willing to donate an organ in the event of their death
How stories of UAE's 'hero' donors are changing attitudes towards giving an organ after death
Nearly 70 per cent of UAE residents say they would donate an organ in the event of their death, according to a new study that has given doctors hope of saving the lives of patients waiting for a donor.
Less than a third of those polled were against giving an organ, researchers found.
The findings were significantly higher than in other countries in the region such as Qatar (37 per cent) Iran (47 per cent) and Pakistan (59 per cent) and on a par with attitudes found in countries with long-established donor programmes.
Family refusal rates vary across the globe. The most recent figure for England was 37 per cent England and 13 per cent in Spain, the world’s leader in organ transplants.
Dr Ali Al Obaidli, chair of the National Organ Transplant Committee, told The National that recent “stories of the success and of the heroes who have donated their organs" have had an impact already.
"There is strong government support for organ donations and we are pleased to know that a large percentage of the population is in favour or organ donations," he said.
An Abu Dhabi hospital carried out the country's first full heart transplant last December, saving the life of a 38-year-old with late stage heart disease.
The UAE legalised the removal of organs from dead patients only last year, paving the way for heart, liver and other organs to be given to those in need.
Transplants from living donors has been permitted for many years but meant only kidneys could be donated, usually from a family member.
The study was the result of a poll of 495 residents in the UAE and was carried out by specialists including Dr Farhad Kheradmand Janahi from Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences and Dr Ahmad Al Rais from Dubai Health Authority, among other institutes. It was published in the global journal Transplantation Proceedings.
But while the study revealed a positive attitude towards organ donation, it also highlighted a lack of knowledge surrounding the procedures and regulations.
While 88 per cent of participants understood the concept of brain-dead, just 40 per cent had the "correct knowledge that the UAE allows the taking of organs from a brain dead person".
Reticence to allow donations from the dead is partly rooted in religious belief.
In Islam, the body is viewed as sacred during and after death, prohibiting cremation and tattoos. One school of thought, particularly in the past, viewed the removal of organs after death as equally impermissible.
That view has largely changed in society and among scholars, and is now seen as permissible to save another life.
The survey found 74 per cent had "positive religious sentiments" regarding organ donations and transplants, believing the chance of saving a life outweighed any notion it could be haram.
Only 20 per cent thought that organ and tissue donations could be against their religion, though overall 30 per cent said that they want their body to be intact for the afterlife.
“The population of the UAE was moderately well informed and motivated about organ donation and transplantation," the study read.
"Although a knowledge gap about the current legislation prevailed, the majority of participants were knowledgeable, nurtured positive beliefs and had a compassionate attitude regarding lawful organ transplantation."
Organ transplantation is the only treatment option for patients with end-stage liver and heart diseases. It is also considered to be the best possible treatment for renal-failure patients in terms of cost-effectiveness and improved quality of life.
In the US, approximately 120,000 patients need a lifesaving organ transplantation while on average, 22 patients die waiting for a transplant daily.
There are no precise statistics for how many patients in the UAE require a transplant, though an estimated 2,000 have advanced kidney failure linked to diabetes and will likely require a new organ.
"The current gap between needy patients and available organ donors can only be bridged by raising public awareness about organ donations along with ethical and legal fundamentals,” researchers said.
"The gap between the number of organ donors and the patients awaiting transplantation widens each year.
"Also, high incidence of traffic accidents and brain death cases in the UAE further widens this gap. Therefore, we performed a survey on residents to closely inspect the knowledge, belief and attitude of the local population regarding organ donation and transplantation.”
Researchers concluded that "governing bodies must promote community awareness activities regarding the current trends and implement laws in the arena of organ and tissue".
The country's health authorities announced this year that expats and Emiratis can become a donor on the transplant programme. The option will eventually be linked to their Emirates ID.
Medics have been encouraged by initial results and families' willingness to allow a relative's organ to be donated.