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Organ donation not like it was in the old days

Australians are more reluctant to donate organs than they were 20 years ago despite a recent improvement in donation rates.

Official figures show that although there has been a jump since 2007 in the number of people willing to donate their organs, rates still lag behind those achieved in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The Australia and New Zealand Organ Registry (ANZOR) has reported a 33 per cent jump in the number of deceased organ donors in the first half of the year to 216 people – up from 162 in the same period in 2012 – putting it on track to easily exceed the record-high 354 donors recorded last year.

The result builds upon a 79 per cent jump in donor numbers since 2007, and has prompted Federal Government to claim that its efforts to boost organ donation rates are succeeding.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing Shayne Neumann said work to remove barriers to donation and better identify potential donors was paying off, and Government reforms were “achieving sustained growth in donation and transplantation outcomes”.

Mr Neumann said the result showed the country was on track to achieve the goal of 17.8 donors per million people this year, which equates to 414 donors.

Such a result would give Australia around the sixth highest number of donors per million among countries included on the International Registry of Organ Donation and Transplantation.

Highest, according to figures compiled in 2010, was Portugal, with a rate of 30.4 donors per million, followed by the United States (25.6) and Austria (23.4). Australia was ranked 10th that year, with a rate of 13.8 per million.

Figures prepared by the ANZOR show that Australia’s organ donation rates have been rebuilding in recent years after bottoming out in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The Registry’s records go back to 1989, when the number of donors per million was at 13.6. The figure subsequently dropped, reaching a low of 8.6 in 1999, and it remained in single digits during much of the early 2000s before jumping to 12 in 2008, reaching a fresh high of 13.9 in 2010, and continuing to rise up to 15.6 last year.

But the Registry said a more meaningful measure of donor rates was to express them a proportion of deaths.

“Historically, the comparison of organ donation rates between states and countries has been based upon donors per million population,” it said. “However, using the number of deaths and, therefore, the ability of a deceased person to be a donor, as a denominator may be a more reasonable way of comparing donation rates.”

According to this measure, donation rates still have some way to go to match those reached 20 years ago.

The number of donors per 1000 was at 3.5 in 1989 and around 3.2 in the early 1990s before sliding as low as 1.4 in 2007.

It has been recovering since then, and reached 2.3 in 2011.

Despite the improvement, Mr Neumann admitted that the country still had some way to go to boost rates of donation.

According to the registry, just 1 per cent of those who die in hospital – around 790 people last year – are potential organ donors.

It reported that of 710 cases where requests to donate were made in 2012, families gave their consent on 410 occasions, resulting in a total of 354 donors providing 1109 organs transplanted to 1052 recipients.

The most common organs transplanted in the first six months of this year were kidneys (56 per cent), livers (whole or partial) (21 per cent), lungs (14 per cent), hearts (6.4 per cent) and pancreas (2.7 per cent).

The number of deceased donors is overshadowed by donations from living donors.

Of 3843 tissue donors last year, 95 per cent were living, and the most common donation was of the head of the femur as a result of hip replacement surgery.

Adrian Rollins

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