April 4, 2011
According to a study conducted at Johns Hopkins, if Congress reversed its ban on allowing HIV-positive people to be organ donors after their death, roughly 500 HIV-positive patients with kidney or liver failure each year could get transplants within months, rather than the years they currently wait on the list.
"If this legal ban were lifted, we could potentially provide organ transplants to every single HIV-infected transplant candidate on the waiting list," says Dorry L. Segev, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study's senior author. "Instead of discarding the otherwise healthy organs of HIV-infected people when they die, those organs could be available for HIV-positive candidates."
The ban on organ donation by HIV-positive patients is a relic of the 1980s, when it was still unclear what caused AIDS. Congress put the ban into the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 and it has never been updated, despite the fact that HIV is no longer an immediate death sentence.
The study, published early online in the American Journal of Transplantation, sought to estimate the number of people who die each year in the United States who are good potential organ donors except for their HIV-positive serostatus. They culled data from two main sources -- the Nationwide Inpatient Study, which has information on in-hospital deaths of HIV-positive patients, and the HIV Research Network, a nationally representative registry of people with HIV. The team determined that the number of annual deaths with what are believed to be organs suitable for transplantation was approximately the same as estimated by each data source -- an average of 534 each year between 2005 and 2008 in the Nationwide Inpatient Study and an average of 494 each year between 2000 and 2008 in the HIV Research Network.
While no transplants of HIV-infected organs into patients with HIV have been done in the United States because of the ban, Segev says doctors in South Africa have started doing this type of transplant with excellent results.
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