New Delhi: Every year, for the past 10 years, 27 November has been celebrated as the ‘Indian Organ Donation Day’ in the country.
Organ donations have always been abysmally low in India. According to estimates, only 0.65 donations per million population take place in the country, compared to 35 in Spain and 26 in the US.
In an attempt to raise awareness, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also tweeted a call for donations on the occasion of Organ Donation Day Friday.
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) November 27, 2020
Furthermore, nearly 80,000 CRPF personnel also pledged to become organ donors Friday — a move that was lauded by Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.
However, in the past few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, organ donations have reduced drastically across the world, including India.
A study, published in the journal The Lancet, noted that countries with high infection rates have seen organ donations fall by more than 50 per cent.
Organ donation in India amid Covid
In India, as well, organ donations reduced significantly in the past few months, especially during the nationwide lockdown that was imposed in March.
Dr Vijil Rahulan, the additional director and chief transplant pulmonologist at Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) in Hyderabad, told ThePrint, “Organ donation has come down drastically during the pandemic. While it was completely shut during the lockdown, in the last two months we have seen some people coming ahead to donate.”
“(Overall) we have seen a 70 per cent drop in the number of organ donors. And with the Covid virus infecting people’s lungs, we have seen an increase in the number of potential recipients and drop in number of donors,” Rahulan added.
Amid the pandemic, most people have been avoiding hospitals and this makes organ donation more difficult.
“We have, in the last four months, conducted 14 lung transplants and three heart transplants. Donation numbers in Telangana used to go up to as high as 15 donors a month at our hospital alone, but this year we are seeing a drastic drop to as low as just one or two donors,” said Rahulan.
“In 2019 Telangana had about 180 donors and the drop to one a month goes to show how the pandemic has affected donors,” he added.
India has only 3% registered organ donors
Even before the pandemic, organ donations have always been low in India.
According to data released by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in 2019, 1.5-2 lakh people require kidney transplants annually but only about 8,000 (4 per cent) patients receive them.
Similarly, almost 80,000 patients require liver transplants every year but only 1,800 of these transplants are performed. About 1 lakh patients require corneal or eye transplants annually but less than half manage to get them.
Even for cardiac patients, of the 10,000 who require heart transplants, only about 200 of them match with viable donors.
A major reason for this shortage is the lack of awareness among people about the process of donation. While several NGOs and public organisations are attempting to spread awareness about this, a large part of the population remains clueless.
Those who wish to become organ donors need to register themselves on online portals like the National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organization (NOTTO), Regional Organ and Tissue Transplant Organization (ROTTO) or the Organ Retrieval Banking Organisation (ORBO).
Family members of a deceased person can also consent to donating their organs.
According to a 2019 report in The Hindu, only 3 per cent of the population across 12 cities in the country have registered to donate organs.
Why Indians are reluctant to donate organs
Several myths associated with organ donations also hamper the process in India, along with fears of disfigurement, non-acceptance of brain death, religious beliefs and migrant workers not having relatives on site to give consent.
Sunanyna Singh, founder of Organ, an organ-receiving and awareness network, found that the most common misconception was regarding the misuse of organs.
“People do not have any information regarding the process of organ donation. People who have the donor’s card do not know how and when to use it. Most donors are worried about their organs being sold to rich patients or being sold in illegal markets,” Singh told ThePrint.
Several people are also under immense pressure from family members who are against organ donations.
Madan Mohan Juneja faced a lot of flak from his family after he decided to donate the organs of his 20-year-old son Anmol, who was declared brain dead after a road accident.
“It has been seven years since we donated our son’s organs and members of my family still do not talk to me. Despite their multiple objections, when I decided to donate his organs, it was believed that I gave up on my son too soon,” Juneja told ThePrint.
He added: “My wife suffered from a minor heart attack when I told her about the situation and my decision to donate Anmol’s organs.”
Anmol’s organs ended up saving the lives of 34 people, according to his father.
In a similar case, after a brick wall fell on 16-year-old Surbhi Bidal, doctors at AIIMS declared her brain dead.
Her mother, Seema Bidal told ThePrint that despite her husband’s hesitation, she decided to donate her daughters organs.
“My husband was worried about our daughters body getting disfigured. I told him that if I can not take my daughter back home, I would rather have her save other people’s lives.” Surbi’s organs saved eight lives, her mother was told by doctors.
According to ORBO officials, another problem with cadaver donations occurs when it’s a migrant worker. The permission of a spouse is the only consent legally recognised in such a situation. However, families of most migrant workers reside in villages and therefore getting timely consent is not always possible.