An HIV-positive mother in South Africa became the first person to donate an organ to an uninfected patient when she donated a piece of her liver to her 13-month-old daughter, reports CNN. Experts say that the results of the transplant have the potential to widen the country’s organ donor scope.
The transplant took place last year at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was announced this past week. The operation took place after two potential donors were found to be unsuitable matches and the child’s deteriorating condition made her mother desperate to find a solution. Slowly dying from end-stage liver disease, doctors finally consented to allow the baby’s mother to donate a part of her liver.
Lead surgeon Jean Botha commented on the controversial decision.
“We were faced with a tough decision. We had to choose between the death of the child and accepting an infected organ to save her. The mother kept pushing and almost challenged us that we were possibly discriminating against her. Knowing HIV individuals live healthy lives, we had to take the opportunity.”
Medical bioethicist Dr. Harriet Etheredge, who worked on the case, explained another challenge the medical team faced. She said that due to the baby’s young age, they were unable to consult the patient on whether she was willing to assume the risk of the transplant.
The night before the operation, the baby was given three antiretroviral drugs and received an anti-inflammatory during the surgery. The mother was tested to make sure her CD4 count was acceptable before the surgery and just a small part of her liver was transplanted into her daughter. A year after the procedure, both mother and baby are doing well and the baby is still HIV negative.
While this surgery marked the first time an organ from an HIV-positive person was transplanted into an HIV-negative person, organ donations between two HIV-positive people have been done. The first transplant took place at John Hopkins University in 2016 and involved kidneys and a liver.
About 13.1 percent of South Africa’s population is HIV positive (roughly 7 million people) and more than 4,000 are waiting for an organ donation, writes CNN. Paul Mee, an assistant professor of epidemiology, commented on the hope that the transplant between the mother and baby will allow doctors to increase the organ donation pool.
“The shortage of suitable organ donors for those in need of a transplant is a major problem throughout the world. This problem is made much worse in countries such as South Africa with high rates of HIV, where infected individuals would normally be considered ineligible as organ donors due to the risk of infection for the recipient.”
Botha echoed Mee’s words saying, “We face dire organ shortage, and this has created an imperative for us to look at alternatives to get our patients transplanted.”