Organ donations continue to fall short of meeting demand

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Report Page: CORR 2016

More than 4,500 Canadians waiting for an organ transplant

March 17, 2016 — Over the last decade, the number of Canadians waiting for a new organ has been higher than the number of transplants performed within a given year. In 2014, there were 2,356 organ transplant surgeries performed; however, more than 4,500 Canadians were on the waiting list at the end of the year, according to the latest numbers released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). The number of patients waiting for an organ varied by organ type, though Canadians waiting for a new kidney accounted for more than 3,400 (or 77%) of those on the list.

End-stage kidney disease (ESKD) is the primary cause of kidney failure, which affected more than 35,000 Canadians (excluding Quebec) in 2014. According to the latest statistics released by CIHI’s Canadian Organ Replacement Register, there were more than 5,200 newly diagnosed cases of ESKD in 2014. Of these, 36% had diabetes — a mostly preventable disease — as a main cause. 

“The rising number of patients with ESKD has created an unprecedented demand for kidneys,” said Greg Webster, director of Acute and Ambulatory Care Information Services at CIHI. “Although there are treatments available for patients with this condition, a kidney transplant recipient has better survival rates and a higher quality of life, and is also significantly less costly to health systems.” 

Organ donation in Canada

The number of deceased organ donors has gone up 44% over the last decade, and in 2014 there were more deceased donors (592) than living donors (553). It is important to note that a deceased donor can provide up to 8 organs. In spite of the increase in deceased donors, there is a persistent shortage of certain organs, especially kidneys, due to the increasing demand for transplants.

A CIHI report released in 2014 estimated that there is significant potential to address this gap by increasing the proportion of deceased Canadians who are eligible to donate their organs and who have them successfully transplanted. Organizations such as Canadian Blood Services are working to increase the number of deceased donors through concerted efforts to maximize organ donation and to improve organ transfers between provinces.

Transplant trends in Canada

Between 2005 and 2014,

  • The number of patients on the waiting list for kidney transplants was approximately 2.5 times higher than the number of transplants performed. 
  • The number of patients on the waiting list and the number of lung transplants performed steadily increased (52% more transplants). 
  • The number of liver transplants performed increased, though the waiting list steadily decreased (27% more transplants). 
  • The number of heart transplants remained relatively steady, whereas the waiting list steadily increased (7% decrease in the number of transplants). In 2011, 2012 and 2014, the number of patients on the waiting list at the end of the year exceeded the number of transplants performed in that year.