The impact of Covid-19 on organ donation

New data reveals the true impact the pandemic had on life-saving organ donation and transplantation rates in 2020, prompting calls for more people to register as a donor.

National organ donation and transplant data for 2020, shows while Australia’s donation rate has doubled over the past decade, the national program took a hit in 2020 due to Covid-19.

“Australians from all walks of life faced great challenges and adversity in 2020 and those waiting for life-changing organ transplants were no different,” says the federal Minister responsible for the Organ and Tissue Authority, Mark Coulton.

“Last year saw a 12 per cent reduction in the number of people receiving a transplant and a 16 per cent decrease in organ donors, compared to 2019.

“Most significantly, 18 per cent fewer kidney transplants were performed, resulting in 153 fewer renal patients receiving the kidney transplant they need.”

According to Minister Coulton the 2020 data exceeds earlier predictions, which serves as a testament to the highly-skilled DonateLife teams, as well as dedicated donation and transplantation staff across the country.

Organ and Tissue Authority CEO, Lucinda Barry, says at the start of the pandemic, the transplant sector took precautionary steps and suspended kidney transplant programs from late-March through to mid-May.

This was due to the concern about hospitals being overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients and also to prevent transplant patients at high risk being exposed to the virus. Urgent heart, lung, liver and paediatric transplants continued during this time for critically ill patients.

“It’s not surprising to see that the 2020 outcomes have been impacted, but minimising the risks to transplant and waiting list patients has been the priority for everyone involved,” says Ms Barry.

“To minimise the impacts, our DonateLife teams worked hard with transplant teams to navigate the challenges facing hospitals and with logistics — including with Covid-19 restrictions, flight reductions and border closures — so that patients received the best possible outcomes.”

Minister Coulton says despite the obvious impacts, 1,270 Australian lives were saved in 2020 through an organ transplant thanks to the generosity of 463 deceased organ donors and their families.

“Families have continued to show their strength and generosity in agreeing to donation, even with the added Covid-19 complexities in intensive care units,” he says.

“Around 1,650 Australians are waitlisted for a transplant and more than 12,000 others are on dialysis — many of whom may need a kidney transplant.

“The best chance we have to address the challenge of a longer waitlist is to have more Australians say ‘yes’ to donation.”

Minister Coulton says data shows that registering to become a donor and talking to your family about your decision has a direct influence on consent rates, so encouraged people to have the chat and register today.

To register to become a donor or to double-check your registration, visit: donatelife.gov.au

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