x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Transplant programme still on ice as 1,000 wait for miracle

Doctors say patients are dying needlessly as organs go unused.

ABU DHABI // The announcement last May of the transplant programme heralded new hope for the thousands of patients across the UAE in need of replacement organs.

An amendment, signed off by Dr Hanif Hassan Ali, the Minister of Health, provided the medical definitions needed for doctors to perform the transplants that were made legal in a 1993 law.

The amendment made it legal to take an organ from a deceased donor if the donor had allowed for it in his will, or if a majority of his closest relatives agreed to it.

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However, the country is still no closer to setting up the infrastructure needed to support a functioning organ transplant system than it was when the appendix was approved.

Details of the role of the National Organ Transplant Committee were announced last year.

The committee was tasked with determining how to enrol donors and compile a database of donors' and potential recipients' details in order to find matches.

Prior to the announcement, health officials had been working on drafting the appendix for three years.

The programme aims to allow for the transplantation of the kidneys, liver, lung, pancreas and heart.

Dr Akhtarul Iman, a specialist in nephrology at Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah, has at least 150 patients with kidney failure and in need of dialysis. He said that at least 80 needed kidney transplants.

"There are over 1,000 people on kidney dialysis in the UAE; they all need kidneys, and that's just one organ. This law, if it is implemented soon and an infrastructure is set up to facilitate donations from deceased donors, could change these people's lives," Dr Iman said.

Hussanzari Amroze, a 46-year-old patient of Dr Iman, died last year because no kidney could be found for her. "She is an example of a patient that did not need to die," said Dr Iman.

Dr Abrar Khan, a multi-organ transplant specialist and the former director of the transplantation programme that was launched in February 2008 at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, left the hospital in February. He had performed more than 40 kidney transplants during his time in the UAE.

Last year, Dr Khan predicted that once an infrastructure was in place to perform transplants from deceased donors, at least 50 kidney, 20 liver and five pancreas transplants could easily be performed each year.

Dr Iman, for one, is frustrated with the lack of progress with the law.

"I have heard absolutely no news on what is happening with this law, or when we can expect it to start helping patients who depend on it for survival," he said.

hkhalaf@thenational.ae