Europe Struggling to Find Organ Donors | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 21.08.2004
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Europe Struggling to Find Organ Donors

Advertising campaigns aimed at dealing with the growing backlog of patients awaiting lifesaving organ transplant operations, are having little effect in some European countries.


Only 12 percent of Germans carry donor cards

In Germany alone, for example, roughly 12,000 people are stuck on waiting lists for new organs – many of whom will be forced to wait more than a year.

Some experts say hospitals themselves are to blame, others point the figure at the government. But many people are simply not prepared to let their organs be removed after death.

In France, about 250 people died last year because they missed out on receiving a new organ. More than 10,000 French patients have been placed on waiting lists for a donated liver, kidney or heart.

This is happening despite the fact that an organ can be legally removed from a dead person’s body for a transplantation in France if the person did not explicitly objected to this while still alive. Such legislation also exists in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Austria and Belgium.

Liver donors especially needed

Patients in need of a new liver face the longest wait, according to Jörg Nevens from the Leeuwen University Hospital in Belgium.

“There is an ever increasing number of jaundice patients, whose livers have been completely damaged by Hepatitis C," he told Deutsche Welle. "That’s why we liver specialists are desperately in search of organ donors."

Nevens added that the problem didn't exist 10 years ago.

Organtransplantation in Jena

Surgeons transplant a kidney at a hospital in the eastern German town of Jena

"We can take care of kidney patients with dialysis during the waiting time," he said. "But this isn’t possible though for liver patients. If they don’t receive a new organ, they simply die.”

More donors are also needed in the United Kingdom. Here, more than 7,000 patients are waiting for kidney transplantations. However, only 1,400 operations can be performed each year.

The British government’s been trying to introduce legislation similar to that in France and other country, making every person who dies a potential organ donor unless they have filled out an objection form.

Currently, relatives of the deceased can decide for them if the opposing documentation doesn’t exist. This rule also applies in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands and Germany.

Few donors in Germany

Although 80 percent of Germans are in favor of organ donating according to research, only about 12 percent hold a donor identification card. This result is quite poor in comparison to the rest of Europe.

Hospitals are also to blame for this, Elisabeth Pott, the director-general of the Federal Center for Health Education in Cologne, told Deutsche Welle.

Notaufnahme im Krankenhaus

A patient is brought to the emergency room

“If well informed people are generally willing to donate their organs, but aren’t even approached because the hospital doesn’t take part in organ donating or because the hospital thinks it’s just too difficult, too complicated or too expensive to organize, this poses a major structural problem,” she said.

Swedish success story

It’s a different story in Sweden, where the government has seen some success with its latest advertising campaign. The radio, television and Internet commercials encourage people to join the country’s register of organ donors, saying that it’s a matter of life and death.

Registrations have risen from around 8,000 to more than 100,000 within almost a year. On the other hand, the Polish government is blessed with a much easier task in that nearly 90 percent of the population are all for donating their organs after death. This stems from the popularity of Catholicism there: It’s the pope’s opinion that everybody should donate their organs after dying.

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