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WHO Urges Ethical, Safe Practices In Organ Transplantation

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Transplantation of human organs, tissues and cells is a worldwide practice that has extended and enhanced the quality of hundreds of thousands of lives. It has also given rise to unethical practices because of a gap between demand and supply. The World Health Organization aims to equip its Member States with a set of guiding principles at a regional meeting on WHO Guiding Principles on Organ Transplantation to assist them in promoting safe and ethical transplantations.

“WHO advocates strategies that would improve the quality, efficacy and safety of donations and transplantation. We need to ensure transparency and address legislation appropriately to prevent trade in organs and exploitation of humans”, said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, at the opening of the meeting.

Twenty prominent policy-makers and transplant surgeons from the South-East Asia Region, along with experts from India, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States, will be attending this four-day event.

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WHO estimates that globally, about 66 000 kidney transplants take place every year. In addition, 21 000 liver and 6 000 heart transplants are undertaken. Estimated numbers of annual kidney transplants in India and Thailand are around 5 000 and 300, respectively. In India alone, 150 000 patients suffer from end-stage renal disease, while 200 000 patients need liver transplantation and 80 000 require heart transplants. The non-availability of adequate numbers of donors remains a major challenge.

In light of these challenges, as well as changes in practices and attitudes regarding organ and tissue transplantation, WHO has updated its Guiding Principles on Human Organ Transplantation in 2008 through an extensive process of global consultation.

These revised guiding principles are intended to provide an orderly, ethical and acceptable framework for acquisition and transplantation of human cells, tissues and organs for therapeutic purposes. They address issues of access, quality, safety and ethics in transplantation. In addition, WHO launched a Global Knowledge base on Transplantation (GKT) in 2006 to collect global data on transplantation-related activities and practices, legal framework and organizational structure.

“In spite of existing legal frameworks on transplantation of human organs in several countries in the South-East Asia Region, commercialization and trafficking in human organs is frequently reported in various countries. Ethical practices in organ donation and transplantation, as well as access to adequate numbers of organs, are of paramount concern to WHO”, Dr Plianbangchang stressed.