Organ Donation in India - A story of shame

Organ Donation in India - A story of shame

September 16, 2013

It has been estimated that 200,000 people in India are annually diagnosed with organ failure needing transplantation as part of life saving measure. A majority of these patients are young where their only hope to a life is by the opportunity of having a transplant of their organ in failure.

India has one of the worst records when it comes to organ donation. Just 0.16 (less than 1) out of a million are donors in India and there is a huge shortage of organs that can save people's lives after being transplanted. The demand in India is of 25,000 donors but the supply in 2012 was a shameful 196 brain-dead donors across the country.


196 Estimated number of brain-dead donors in 2012 -- the most successful year for deceased organ donation in India

0.16 per million Indians or less than 1 per million was an organ donor (in 2012)

34 organs and tissues can be harvested from a brain-dead donor.

1.4 lakh: Indians who die in road accidents every year, 90,000 of them are left brain-dead.

50% of all organ donations needs could be met by using organs from road mishap casualties.

The Transplantation of Human Organs Act was passed in 1994 to stop the illegal and unethical ‘trade’ of vital organs like kidneys. It introduced the concept of brain death, an irreversible condition in which the brain stops functioning but the heart lingers on for a few days. Persons caught in such a limbo are the only ones who can donate organs such as heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, etc for transplantation into patients suffering from organ failure. But 19 years after this Act, India has little to show in terms of cadaveric organ donation.

  • Cadaveric transplants, in which a brain-dead person's organs are retrieved and transplanted into an organ-failure patient, are still unheard of in most parts of India. In fact, the Indian Society of Organ Transplantation's website says that cadaveric organs account for less than 4% of the 21,000-odd kidney transplants performed so far.
  • Statistically speaking, 232 Indians per million population need a kidney transplant every year. Many others suffer from failure of the heart, lungs, liver and other vital organs. However, India does not even manage to get 232 cadaveric donations in a year.
Organ Donations in foreign countries
  • Spain bears the distinction of sporting the world’s healthiest organ donation rates. It has 35 organ donors for every million people in its population. United Kingdom, has a rate of 12.9 per million. But across the seas, the United States boasts of 26 donors per million.
  • The US set up a national organ sharing network called UNOS that matches donors and recipients from across the country. This initiative brought together public health institutions, governmental agencies, private healthcare providers, the not-for profit sector, all on one common platform nearly three decades ago. This single step has ensured that more organs are transplanted to those in need than anywhere else in the world.

Success Stories of Organ Donations in India

  • Tamil Nadu has set an example by appointing an administrator to chart out its deceased donor programme in 2008. The government issued a diktat to hospitals to identify brain death compulsorily, and floated a novel organ-sharing formula between public and private hospitals. The scheme worked and in 2012 TN managed to get 78 cadaver donations.

  • Andhra Pradesh’s Jeevandan scheme has streamlined procedures and deceased donor numbers have doubled - from 13 in 2012 to 24 in the first half of 2013. It has helped 100 patients in 7 months.

  • With about 10 lakh bodies pledged in the state, West Bengal gets the maximum number of body donation in the country and its capital gets most of these. Corneal and bone marrow transplants are performed more frequently in Kolkata.

Illegal Organ Trade

  • According to World Health Organisation, almost 10,000 organs are traded illegally every year globally. The trade has a few identified hubs – of which India is one.

  • By using loopholes in the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, the illegal rackets are doing a brisk business. For example, the Act says that only family members can donate organs to a patient. However, others can do so as well subject to approval from an authorised committee.

  • Indian laws make it mandatory for hospitals that have organ transplant licence to have coordinators. Yet, not every hospital with the licence bother to have coordinators. What India lacks is transparency. If donors or their families are convinced that their donation is ethically and legally channelled, they would have no issues in pledging their organs.

The Solution to Illegal Organ Trade

Increasing cadaveric donations can help in reducing illegal trade of organs. Once more people come forward to pledge their organs and supply begins to meet demand, the black market will itself die a natural death.

The Pledge

Can we do something about this cause? Each one of us has the power to do so - by signing up for an organ donor card that demonstrates our willingness to allow our organs to be harvested after our death.

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