New program in the works to boost organ donations

A system of managing organ donor procedures that has been successfully used in Spain is to be tried out in Greece, a country that is way behind other European states in this field. Already 100 people have declared their willingness to act as local coordinators for organ transplants in hospitals, a system that contributed considerably to the success of the Spanish system. The coordinators’ job is to find and report cases of potential donors, given that the organs of one in seven patients who die in intensive-care wards are eventually donated. At present, despite the increase both in the number of registered donors and of transplants carried out in the past two to three years, Greece is at the bottom of the list in Europe. According to Professor Alkiviadis Kostakis, the new president of the National Transplant Organization (EOM), in 2003 Greece had 6.45 donors per million inhabitants, compared to the European average of 17.3 per million. He said Spain topped the list with 33.8 per million, while Greece was ahead of Romania, Cyprus and Bulgaria with 0.38, 1.42 and 1.54 donors per million respectively. As for the number of actual organ transplants, in 2003 there were 242, of which 134 were kidneys from deceased donors, 79 were kidneys from living donors, 24 were liver transplants and five heart transplants. About 83,400 Greeks have registered themselves as potential donors, while about 1,000 are on waiting lists for a transplant. Last year, about 35 people died while waiting for a suitable organ. In Europe, less than 40 percent of those on waiting lists are given transplants every year, while 3,500 Europeans die every year for want of an organ transplant, an average of about 10 deaths daily. Rafael Matesanz, director of Spain’s National Transplant Organization, said the Spanish model involved a coordination network at three levels – national, regional and hospital. He said that at hospital level, there are 139 groups of coordinators covering the hospitals and who are responsible for finding potential donors and approaching their families. Since the system was introduced in 1989, the number of donors in Spain has doubled. Kostakis said EOM’s immediate goals included the training of local coordinators and hospitals. Already, 100 people working in hospitals have responded to an appeal for candidates for the job. The Health Ministry, responding to a proposal from EOM, is seeking ways to introduce special incentives for those willing to be coordinators. Another goal is the development of new transplant centers, particularly for heart and liver transplants. The Evangelismos Hospital has already lodged a petition to reopen its heart transplant unit, and in the near future the Laiko Hospital will begin a liver transplant program.