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No shortage of kidney donors, we lack regulation

Health & Science
 The kidney is the most transplanted organ in Kenya. [iStockphoto]

When I undertook my medical degree at Kenyatta National Hospital a few years ago, I was surprised to learn what was meant to be a helipad, is now a football field and that the last time a helicopter landed on the KNH helipad, it blew away the mabati roofs of surrounding structures, and it was carrying a politician who was passing by the hospital.

Helipads in hospitals are mainly for emergency medical evacuations. In more advanced settings, they also serve a purpose in transplant surgery as organs are received daily from the peripheral centres for immediate transfer to patients on a waiting list.

The kidney is the most transplanted organ in Kenya. I was recently at a transplant centre in Eldoret, and was surprised to learn that there is no shortage of kidney donors in Kenya.

This was a surprising discovery for me. I have always thought Kenyans are very conservative when it comes to organ donation. However, this seems to apply to kidney donation only. There is still an acute shortage of donors for other organs, such as the cornea and the liver. In fact, corneas being transplanted locally are invariably imported.

While there seems to be a lot of sensitisation on Kidney donation in Kenya, less has been done to encourage Kenyans to embrace the donation of other organs. Most of the kidneys being transplanted in Kenya are from live donors, all of whom are relatives of the patient.

However, there is untapped potential in cadaveric organ donation. These are organ donations from the dead. The quality of life would be better for so many people had there been contributions from our departed friends and colleagues.

While the Health Amendment Act 2017 sought to streamline tissue donation, the accompanying regulations have not been formulated for cadaveric organ donation. I recently called a big hospital right here in Kenya and identified myself as a potential organ donor. There seemed to be no clarity on how I would go about signing up.

When I visited the transplant centre, the head of the unit informed me that there was a legal lacuna. The necessary tools required to actualise premortem consent for organ donation have not been developed.

This is a challenge to the tissue and organ transplant authority. It does not make sense for the country that boasts of a regional medical tourism hub to rely on the importation of tissues when we could have an abundant supply of the same locally.

We can deduce that our society is not particularly resistant to organ donation, live or cadaveric. I was surprised to learn that for a person who needs a kidney, there are three persons who are ready to donate to them.

There is need for increased sensitisation on organ donations, and from that, we can restore sight to many, save the lives of liver patients, and make this country a tourism hub for transplant surgery.

— The writer is a urologist resident and medical doctor in Eldoret. Submit your contributions to [email protected]

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