The Johns Hopkins University Hospital is about to become the very first hospital in the United States to be approved to perform organ transplants between donors and recipients who test positive for HIV. The historic decision will be the beginning of a new era that could increase the transplant rate of the entire nation, and significantly cut down on the volume of persons waiting for organ donations.
Dr. Dorry Segev, director of the Epidemiology Research Group in Organ Transplantation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that each year, up to 1,000 viable organs from about 500 HIV positive patients go to waste. According to US News, Seveg went on to state in an official press release approved by Johns Hopkins that, now that transplants can be done using HIV-positive donors, it would shorten the waiting list for everyone. The current waiting list for organ transplants has about 122,000 persons listed.
“If [these organs are given to HIV-positive patients], it will be the largest increase in transplantation in the last decade. This is an unbelievably exciting day for our hospital and our team, but more importantly for patients living with HIV and end-stage organ disease. For these individuals, this means a new chance at life.”
Patients who test positive for the HIV virus can already receive organs from donors who do not have the virus. Medical institutions have not been allowed to perform such transplants since 1988, but in 2013, President Barack Obama signed the HIV Organ Policy Equity – or HOPE – Act and made transplants between HIV-positive donors and recipients legal.
Even though permissions were granted so long ago and with the approval of the United Network for Organ Sharing, it is reported that Johns Hopkins took over two years ensuring that the necessary safety policies were all in place, working with several key health organizations. During the initial phase of the organ transplants, the hospital would be performing kidney and liver transplants from donors that are deceased. Latino Times reports that Johns Hopkins would be the first in the nation to perform a kidney transplant with an HIV-positive organ and the first hospital in the entire world to perform an HIV-positive liver transplant.
There are some in the medical field who have expressed concern that organs from HIV-positive individuals might accidentally be transplanted to someone without HIV, but the prevention of any such possibility accounts for the time it took for the hospital to finally be ready to begin the surgeries. Johns Hopkins is currently the only hospital approved to perform the HIV-positive organ transplants in the U.S., but Seveg advised that they are helping other hospitals to get the protocols and permissions necessary to also be allowed to perform such surgeries.
This new initiative is seen as a major victory for those living within the HIV community, as they were the ones most affected by the 1988 ban. HIV-positive individuals often are stigmatized due to their status, and the fact that their mortality rate was higher than other patients also put them at a disadvantage. David Klassen, the chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing, has advised that the medical outlook for HIV patients has greatly improved in the last years.
“Nobody would consider transplanting an HIV positive recipient because everyone knew their life span was short. The notion that HIV positive recipients could be transplanted arose as a result of their extended life spans.”
The mortality rate for HIV patients on the waiting list is higher than in patients without the autoimmune disease, and more often than not, those on the waiting list die before they receive an organ. Now, persons with HIV will not only be allowed to receive organs at a faster rate, but many will also be given the chance to donate their organs and help save the lives of other persons with the disease.
Seveg is very thankful for the opportunity to do these life saving transplants.
“We are very thankful to Congress, Obama, and the entire transplant community for letting us use organs from HIV-positive patients to save lives, instead of throwing them away, as we had to do for so many years.”
The 2013 HOPE Act was inspired by a South African organ transplant program, which showed positive outcomes for HIV-positive to HIV-positive kidney transplants.
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