Organ transplants plummet amid coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus pandemic is having a dramatic effect on the number of organ transplants, according to a study published on Monday.

In the U.S. and France, transplantation surgeries have declined by 51 and 90 percent, respectively, from February to April. The maximum impact was seen for kidney transplants. A substantial decline was recorded for heart, lung and liver transplants too. 

"Our findings point to the far-reaching and severe ripple effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on health care, including life-saving organ transplants," said Peter Reese, co-author of the study published in the medical journal, the Lancet.

As the novel coronavirus spread in the U.S., the number of organs recovered from donors started plummeting. It dropped from more than 110 a day on March 6 to fewer than 60 per day on April 5. Kidney transplants, during the same period, dropped from nearly 65 a day to about 35 per day.

High susceptibility of organ transplant recipients to infections and shortage of medical staff and equipment in hospitals were major concerns leading to a decrease in such surgeries, said researchers.

Globally, the number of living donor kidney and liver transplants are continually increasing, but most of these organs still come from deceased donors. In the case of the U.S, 32,000 out of nearly 40,000 operations performed involved organs from deceased donors. 

"Organs from deceased donors represent a time-limited opportunity, as they must be procured and used rapidly. However, in order to protect the safety of their patients, centers must now carefully vet all donors to ensure there is minimal risk of COVID-19," added Reese.

Expressing worry over the steep reduction in organ donations and transplant procedures, researchers warned of a worldwide shortage of transplantable organs. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 112,000 people on the national transplant waiting list.

In France, the number of transplants saw a significant drop because of the government's action to reduce clinical and commercial activity to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On the contrary, in the U.S., individual states decided to enforce restrictions, giving hospitals and surgeons to perform transplant surgeries.

"These international comparisons of transplant activity will be very important as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves," said Alexandre Loupy, one of the co-authors of the study.

Mapping of local trends in organ donation and transplant activity could help in identifying areas where the number of donations and transplants continues to remain lower than average, researchers added.

(Cover: Paula Johnson, a registered nurse, administers a deep suction tube into the lungs of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) positive patient, in the intensive care unit of Roseland Community Hospital on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, April 22, 2020. /Reuters)