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Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

NZ organ donation rate among world's lowest

New Zealand had only 8.7 deceased organ donors per million people in 2010, compared with 13.5 per million in Australia and 16.4 in Britain. Photo / File / Thinkstock
New Zealand had only 8.7 deceased organ donors per million people in 2010, compared with 13.5 per million in Australia and 16.4 in Britain. Photo / File / Thinkstock

New Zealand's organ donation rate remains among the lowest in the world, with just 38 deceased donors last year - the same as the previous year and unchanged from a decade earlier.

Donor reform campaigners say the lack of progress is disappointing after a boost in money for education and the Government should consider new ways of encouraging families to donate their loved one's organs.

New Zealand had only 8.7 deceased organ donors per million people in 2010, compared with 13.5 per million in Australia and 16.4 in Britain.

Latest figures from Organ Donation New Zealand, which coordinates deceased organ donations, show there were 174 transplant operations using organs from live and deceased donors last year.

The number of deceased donors was unchanged from a decade earlier, despite the population growing by about half a million.

A total of 38 deceased donors contributed organs to 118 transplant operations last year - including 56 kidney, 34 liver, 13 lung, 12 heart and three pancreas transplants.

Up to 500 patients are currently waiting for kidneys, 19 for livers, 10 each for hearts and lungs, and six for pancreases.

Donor reform campaigner Andy Tookey said the lack of improvement was disappointing.

"Nothing's changed - we're still where we were in 2002."

Mr Tookey has called for new measures to increase the donor rate, such as Government-subsidised funeral expenses for all donors.

"Quite a lot of people in society automatically say no to their family member being an organ donor, but they might think twice if all the costs are covered for the funeral," he said.

"It's ironic that many people already get a funeral grant from either being a beneficiary or from ACC, but donors who go on to save the lives of, or improve the quality of life for up to 10 people get nothing in recognition of their contribution to society."

The principal of Bethlehem College in Tauranga, Eoin Crosbie, owes his life to a liver transplant in 1996, and was also disappointed by the low donor rate.

He said the best way to lift the rate was to encourage people to share stories about their experiences.

"I think stories touch hearts ... We can do promotional campaigns and ads and things like that, but I think stories have got power."

Mr Crosbie said organ donation was not easy issue to talk about because it involved thinking about dying, which most people wanted to avoid.

But he stressed that the families of donors, and not just the organ recipients, benefited from the experience.

"It's a wonderful blessing to be a recipient, but I think it's also a blessing to be a donor in the midst of pain and hurt."

Organ Donation New Zealand donor co-ordinator Janice Langlands said an ongoing audit process was trying to identify the true potential for deceased organ donation in New Zealand.

"From our perspective, we're trying to ensure that all potential donors are identified in the intensive care unit and families are given the opportunity of donation."

Only intensive care patients with non-survivable brain injuries can become deceased donors - a small proportion of the 1200 intensive care patients who die in hospitals each year.

Ms Langlands said about 55 per cent of families who were asked to consider donating a relative's organs agreed to do so - a higher proportion than the 48.8 per cent of people who indicated they wanted to be donors on their driving licences.

The decision was ultimately up to the family, regardless of what a potential donor indicated on their licence, and all families whose relatives were identified as potential donors were approached.

Health Minister Tony Ryall last year announced an extra $4 million organ donation funding, including $2m to train intensive care professionals on identifying potential donors and giving greater support to their families.

DECEASED ORGAN DONORS:
2012 - 38
2011 - 38
2010 - 41
2009 - 43
2008 - 31
2007 - 38
2006 - 25
2005 - 29
2004 - 40
2003 - 40
2002 -38
Source: Organ Donation NZ

- APNZ

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