Thursday, February 25, 2016

Transplanting HIV-Positive Organs

If all goes according to plan, there will soon be a significant increase in the number of human organs available for transplantation. That's because the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the system that oversees organ transplants in this country, has given final approval to begin transplanting organs from HIV positive donors into HIV recipients.

Twenty years ago, HIV-positive patients were not considered good candidates for organ transplantation because they were not expected to live very long. But over the years better treatment of HIV has meant that HIV-positive patients can live nearly a normal life. So although HIV-positive people are now eligible for organ transplants, there are not nearly enough HIV-negative organs available to satisfy a rapidly growing demand. (Traditionally, organs from donors who test positive for HIV are rejected because of the fear of transferring HIV to the recipient.)

Prior to 2013 it was illegal to even conduct research using HIV-positive organs. Then in 2013 the government passed the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) act, allowing such research for the first time. The research showed conclusively that HIV-positive organs could be effectively and safely transplanted into HIV-infected recipients. The first such transplant is likely to occur within months. The availability of HIV-infected organs dramatically increases the pool of organs available to HIV-positive recipients (they will now be eligible for organs that HIV-negative recipients are not). It will also improve the situation for potential recipients who are not HIV-positive, because there will be fewer HIV-positive recipients competing for the available HIV-negative organs.

It's win-win for all potential organ recipients, regardless of HIV status. The government should be congratulated for their vision on this one.

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