Gift of life

October 11, 2019

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FOR a nation that prides itself on its charitable instincts, Pakistanis are very niggardly about pledging their organs to save the lives of people experiencing end-stage organ failure. Last week, an event held by the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation in Karachi put a human face to these patients’ suffering. Several of them, mostly young people living with renal failure, spoke about their despair at the non-availability of organs for transplantation and the cost to them in terms of their career plans and the impact on their families. Their stories may have differed in the details, but they all sprang from, quite simply, the very human desire to live. Certainly, dialysis does give kidney failure patients a fighting chance, but the procedure takes a steep toll in terms of quality of life and employment prospects.

SIUT, along with some segments of civil society, has been at the vanguard of a countrywide campaign to raise awareness about deceased organ donation through talks, seminars, public service advertisements, etc. The need for such a drive is clear: around 200,000 individuals die from organ failure each year in this country, including approximately 20,000 from renal failure — but until now there have been only seven transplants with the help of deceased organ donations. Despite all efforts, only 15,000 people in Pakistan have thus far registered as organ donors. Given that organs can only be harvested in specific circumstances — an individual being certified as brain dead while on life support, which keeps oxygen flowing to the organs — this number is nowhere near enough to make a real dent. Practical measures, such as more ventilators in hospitals, the subject of cadaveric donations being made an integral part of medical curricula, etc, are vital. The unavailability of living donors in the patients’ family, compounded by the lack of deceased organ donors, also fuels the illegal business of vended organs, and Pakistan has only quite recently shed its global reputation as a thriving bazaar for this practice. In order for this campaign to get some wind in its sails, it must be accorded due importance at the highest levels of government. After all, the health burden, not to mention lost working days on account of end-stage organ failure, is enormous. Top state officials, including the president and the prime minister — with his celebrity status — amongst others, should sign up as organ donors and encourage others to follow suit.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2019