Organ donation after death on the rise in Canada, helping to ease some waiting lists, study finds

A new report says the rate of organ donations from deceased people has risen substantially over the last decade in Canada, while the rate for living donors has declined.

The data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and Canadian Blood Services show that the number of organs donated after death increased by 42 per cent.

A big part of that increase is due to organs from patients “who have experienced circulatory death — meaning their hearts have permanently stopped beating — and neurological death — meaning their brain has permanently lost all function,” said a news release issued on Thursday. 

Those donations have helped many patients waiting for organ transplants, said Greg Webster, CIHI’s director of acute and ambulatory care information services in the release. 

“In particular, we’re starting to see a decrease in the number of patients on wait lists for lung and liver transplants, which is a very good sign for patients and the health-care system as a whole,” Webster said. 

There were 758 deceased donors in Canada last year, providing almost 2,900 life-saving transplants. Each deceased donor can provide up to eight organs for transplantation.

Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia have the highest rates of donation from people who have died, the report says, noting that those provinces have “implemented mandatory referral and the presence of in-hospital donation specialists, to ensure donation opportunities are explored.”

Kidney donors needed

However, the report shows there’s been an 11 per cent drop in the rate of living organ donations since 2007, with 544 donors in 2016. Living donors can provide a kidney or part of their liver.

Last year, there were 1,731 kidneys from deceased and living donors transplanted in Canada, but more than 3,400 Canadians were still waiting for a transplant.

The CIHI report shows there were 37,647 Canadians outside Quebec living with end-stage kidney disease, up 36 per cent since 2007.

The number of people in need of a kidney transplant — which eliminates the need for dialysis — continues to significantly outpace the number of available organs.

According to the report, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta have the highest rates of living donation, partly due to programs geared at finding kidney donors for difficult-to-match recipients. 

“More work remains to be done in living and deceased donation so that more patients with a treatable disease receive a transplant and subsequently come off the wait list,” said Kimberly Young, director of organ donation and transplantation at Canadian Blood Services.

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