Organ donation, a vital life saver

Matching organ donations to recipients is about to become more streamlined with a $14.9 million funding injection to OrganMatch.

And while the government has taken care of one part of this life-saving equation, it seems many people still haven’t followed through with their choice to donate.

Federal regional health minister and minister responsible for the Organ and Tissue Authority (OTA) Dr David Gillespie announced the funding for OrganMatch, Australia’s software system that matches donor to recipient.

“Our aim is to increase access for more people and deliver better outcomes for those 1850 Australians on the waitlist in need of a life-saving transplant,” he said.

Dr Gillespie said OrganMatch had changed the way organs were allocated to donors, enabling the best possible matching outcomes and prioritising patients who are highly sensitised and hard to match, as well as young recipients and people who urgently need a transplant.

“Since the system went live in 2019, 31 highly sensitised patients have received a kidney transplant who otherwise would have been unlikely to find a suitable match without OrganMatch,” Dr Gillespie said.

“One of these recipients had been waiting for a kidney transplant for 17 years, while 12 had been waiting more than five years.

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Statistics show that while Australia is keen on organ donation, very few people have signed up to get onboard.

According to the ABC’s Australia Talks survey, 67 per cent of the survey respondents said they wanted to donate their organs when they died, but only about 30 per cent actually registered.

Australia has an opt-in system and, except in South Australia, has phased out the previous option to have your decision on your driver’s licence. South Australians can still register when applying or renewing their licence.

Anyone 16 or over can register at donatelife.gov.au as well as on their MyGov account or Express Plus Medicare app. DonateLife also has the option to download a form to post. There is even an option to specify which organs or tissue you would like to donate.

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DonateLife chief Lucinda Barry told the ABC it was crucial to get more Australians registered, as only about 2 per cent of people who die in Australian hospitals meet the criteria.

“I think most people have a busy life. And so, you really have to take an extra step to register … it takes less than a minute of your time,” she said.

Ms Barry also recommended discussing any decision about organ donation with your family, as even if you are registered, your family must consent to thedonation

“The opportunity for donation only really occurs if you’re in an intensive care unit. And generally, you’re on a ventilator, so you’re unable to make that decision. So no matter what the system is, families are involved,” she said.  

Seven out of 10 families agree to organ donation if they know their loved one wanted to be a donor, according to DonateLife, but this increases to nine out of 10 if the person is registered. When the family is unaware of the person’s preference, that number falls to four in 10.

And even if you haven’t been living your best life, you can still be a donor, says DonateLife. Smokers, drinkers or those with an unhealthy diet might still be a possible donor, as there is every chance some of your organs or tissues may be suitable. 

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According to Australian government statistics, Australia’s donation rate doubled between 2009 and 2019. However, Australia’s donation and transplantation rates dropped in 2020 due to COVID-19 as hospital faced challenges over reduced flights, border restrictions and cancelled elective surgery for living donations.

Have you discussed organ donation with your family? What are your preferences? Tell us why in the comments section below.

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Written by Jan Fisher

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