98% kidney transplant patients still await a compatible organ donor in India

April 7, 2022 0 By CH Unnikrishnan

Even as the live kidney transplant programme in India has evolved in the past several years and is currently the second largest after the US in terms of volume, the country, with all its major kidney transplant hospitals put together, does close to 6000 procedures a year despite a total annual requirement of about 3 lakh. 

According to the latest estimate from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the country’s annual requirement for kidney transplant currently ranges between 2-3 lakhs, with a mere 2 percent occurring in reality, mainly due to the critical shortage of compatible kidneys, and the remaining 98 percent are still awaiting a suitable donor with just about 15000, including deceased and living, donors available on an average.  Lack of general awareness about organ donation and hesitation from the family members are the key limitations in expanding the donor pool. 

This signifies the urgent need for alternative and more acceptable solutions to address the worst shortage. Medical experts are of the view that kidney swap transplant procedure seems one of the best solutions to India’s critical shortage of compatible kidneys for patients suffering from kidney failures. A kidney swap or paired kidney exchange occurs when a living kidney donor is incompatible with the recipient, and exchanges kidneys with another donor/recipient pair. This essentially means that two or more live donor transplants can take place simultaneously, depending on the expanded pool of live donors. 

“The success of swap transplant depends on the donors’ generosity and mutual trust.  The success of every transplant is a testament to patients’ trust in the medical team of doctors, surgeons, and paramedics, who have collaboratively contributed to the success of every organ transplant performed in the hospital,” says Farhan Yasin, regional director (Kerala and Oman) at Aster Hospitals, which successfully completed its 50th kidney swap transplant recently.  

Aster MIMS Hospital, which became the first hospital in India to have achieved this (completion of 50 kidney swipe transplants) historical feat, performed its first swap transplant in 2012, and since then it has paved the way for other hospitals in the region to adopt this life-enhancing procedure.

End-stage renal disease (ESRD), which is quite common in India, is one of the main reasons for the large requirement of kidney transplants in the country.  

According to Dr Sajith Narayanan, head-Nephrology, Aster MIMS Hospital, end-stage renal disease is the most highly prevalent health condition in India. “In most cases, patients approach their doctors in the end-stage because the disease is asymptomatic. Therefore, it is essential to do routine check-ups for diabetes and high blood pressure as they are the biggest risk factors of ESRD,” he says.

The latest available data from the Transplant Registry of India shows that between 1971 and 2015, a total of 21,395 kidneys were transplanted in the country. Of these,  a mere number of 783 kidneys belonged to deceased or cadaver donors. A recent report from the Registry says that more than 2.5 Lakh people suffer from last-stage kidney diseases every year. In that 7 out of 10 patients go for dialysis and nearly 6 out of those 10 can’t continue due to heavy treatment fees.