Organ transplants on the rise

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Results encouraging, but Canada still lags behind other countries

February 25, 2014—For the first time in a decade, the number of deceased organ donors in Canada has exceeded the number of living donors, according to a new report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

Of the 2,225 organ transplant procedures performed in Canada in 2012—an increase of nearly 5% over 2011—1,686 were from deceased donors, according to Canadian Organ Replacement Register Annual Report: Treatment of End-Stage Organ Failure in Canada, 2003 to 2012.

Deceased donors are important because they can provide up to eight organs for transplant to Canadians in need, while a living donor can provide only a single organ.

CIHI’s report shows that the rate of deceased Canadian organ donors has risen by 17% over the past 10 years. This may be explained in part by heightened public awareness of organ donation due to both greater media coverage and the growth of social media campaigns.

However, even with this increase, Canada’s deceased donor rate continues to lag behind that of other countries.

“There is still a significant gap between donations and need,” says Dr. Joseph Kim, a transplant nephrologist with the University Health Network and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. “We need to engage both the public and the health system to increase awareness and improve efficiencies in identifying and evaluating potential organ donors.”

And, Dr. Kim explains, while increasing the number of donors is both important and encouraging, it is equally important to ensure that sufficient resources are in place to get patients with end-stage organ failure onto waiting lists for transplant procedures.

End-stage organ failure presents complex issues and challenges for the health care system. Consider, for example, kidney disease:

  • Dialysis and organ replacement are the only alternatives for patients with end-stage kidney disease.
  • In 2012, out of the 41,252 Canadians living with end-stage kidney disease, 58% were receiving some form of dialysis.
  • As of December 31, there were 3,428 patients on the waiting list for kidney transplants.

While transplants cannot and do not cure patients, they can improve their quality of life dramatically. They are also more cost-effective than the alternatives.

“Over a five-year period, a kidney transplant is approximately $250,000 less expensive per patient than dialysis,” explains Greg Webster, CIHI’s Director of Acute and Ambulatory Care Information Services. “That’s good for both patients and the system.”

Furthermore, type 2 diabetes—a largely preventable disease—continues to be the most predominant cause of end-stage kidney disease in Canada. “Focusing efforts on prevention initiatives, such as nutrition and lifestyle education, may result in fewer patients requiring dialysis in the first place,” says Webster.

 

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Organs Required by Canadians in 2012