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Spain sets example for world in organ donation

Source: Xinhua - Mon 21st Apr 2014
Spain sets example for world in organ donation

Despite a number of painful cutbacks since the onset of the economic downturn, the Spanish health service remains a leader and the Spanish people set an example of solidarity for the rest of the world when it comes to organ donation and transplantation.

Since its creation in 1989, the Spanish National Transplant Organisation (ONT) has overseen more than 90,500 organ transplant operations, including over 57,000 kidney transplants, 21,576 liver transplants, 7,024 heart transplants, more than 3,200 lung transplants and over 1,500 pancreas transplant operations.

This due partly to the fact that Spain has the highest rate of organ donors in the world, with 1,655 Spaniards donating their organs in 2013, reaching an average of 35.1 donors per million people. This figure is way above that of the EU's average of 19.2, the USA's 25.8, and as much as 4 times higher than the South American average of 8.2 donors per million people.

Dr Rafael Matesanz of the National Transplant Organization told the Xinhua news agency how the average number of donors in Spain was between 5 and 6 donors per day, but "there are peaks of 14, 15 or 16 donors and the activity can vary."

It was during one of those peaks that the ONT set a new record. "Very recently we achieved 45 transplants in one day," said Matesanz. He added that when it began operating 25 years ago in 1989, the ONT oversaw a total of 550 operations.

The logistics are impressive, considering the complex process that needs to take place before a transplant operation can even begin.

There are 181 hospitals in Spain authorized to take organ donations and each of these has a coordinator who has to speak to the donor's family and a judge before any procedure can take place.

This has to be done following the correct procedure regarding X-rays and analysis before the coordinator gets in contact with the National Transplant Organization in Madrid.

The coordination center at the ONT has a list of people who need organs and they look for an appropriate match for the organ.

There can be several recipients for one donor in different parts of the country. Once the person to receive the organ has been established, the ONT then has to organise transport for the organ to reach one of the 43 Spanish hospitals authorized to perform transplants along with the recipient and the team to perform the operation.

The procedure has to take place within a maximum of 5 or 6 hours to ensure the organ does not begin to deteriorate.

"It is a complex process, which sometimes needs over 100 people to take part, including the donor's hospital, the recipient hospital, police, transport, and aircraft etc." said Matesanz.

2010 saw the work of the ONT rewarded with the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

"I think that transplant in Spain is an honor of national pride. We have been leading the world in the percentage of donors and number of transplants for 22 years," commented Matesanz, who believes his organization will have even more work in the future.

"Transplants are a technique which needs constant renewal. When we started 25 years ago, we didn't expect it would grow to be like what it is now. We are introducing new techniques everyday, such as on preserving organs," he said.

Matesanz maintained that transplantation techniques are going to continue evolving and growing. "It's reasonable to foresee that in 5 to 10 years we will be doing new things and we will have more activity than at the present."

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