Doctors have performed transplants with HIV-infected organs for the first time in the U.K. The organs were given to patients on the transplant waiting list who were also HIV positive, and they have so far been recovering well. It is hoped that by relaxing the rules and regulations regarding who can donate organs, for which HIV-positive people had been banned, more organs will be available for those on the waiting list.
The operations are thought to have occurred over the last five years, but are only just being made public now. They have involved two livers from individual patients and two kidneys taken from one, which were then transplanted into already HIV-infected patients in dire need of new organs. Previously, it was considered risky to transplant organs between infected patients, as the donor and recipient may be at different points of infection, and there were unknown risks of crossing different strains of the virus.
“We carefully evaluate all donors,” Professor John Forsythe, associate director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, explains to the BBC. “And with potential donors with HIV, we also need to understand how well their HIV has been treated and whether the donor had any infections or illnesses associated with more advanced HIV. Surgeons will use this information to balance the risks of using an organ from someone with HIV with the risk of their patient dying while waiting for another organ to become available.”
This is not, however, the first time that HIV-infected organs have been used in transplantations. The first actually occurred in South Africa back in 2008, though again that wasn’t reported until two years later. In the U.S., surgeons at Johns Hopkins University successfully carried out the first HIV-infected transplants using a liver and kidney in March. This major step took years of attempting to get the law changed to allow HIV-positive men to donate organs.
While obviously HIV-negative people will not receive HIV-positive organs, it is hoped that by allowing those who have HIV to donate their organs to HIV-positive patients on the transplant list, it will free up other non-infected organs. This means that more people will get treated, and ultimately fewer people will die while waiting for a suitable organ to become available. In the U.K. alone, three people die a day waiting for organs for transplants.
The doctors involved in the latest round of surgeries are keen to stress that everyone, regardless of their health situation or any illness they may have, should sign up to the organ donation register and potentially help save someone’s life. If you’re in the U.S., you can do that here. If you are in the U.K., click here.