Muscat: Organ donation and transplants are picking up pace in the Sultanate of Oman thanks to rising awareness. Since last October, 15 organ transplants have been performed including seven kidney transplants, eight liver transplants, and kidney transplants for two children from a brain-dead donor last March. A person can save 8 lives with his/her organs.
The transplant team at Royal Hospital recently performed an emergency liver transplant on a two-year-old girl with severe liver failure. The girl's aunt donated a part of her liver. The Royal Hospital surgeons were supported by liver transplant pioneer Dr Mohamed Rela who flew in from India.
The kid underwent Auxiliary partial orthotopic liver transplantation (APOLT) where a partial liver graft is implanted in an orthotopic position after leaving behind a part of the native liver.
Within a few weeks, she was able to regain her health thanks to her aunt who did not hesitate to save her life with respirators, dialysis and intravenous drugs.
Organ transplantation strives to ensure the safety of both the donor and the patient. Organ donation saves many lives and lack of donors is a challenge, say surgeons and transplant specialists. Community awareness is key to popularising organ donation. For instance, there are approximately 2,500 kidney patients in the Sultanate of Oman who depend on dialysis. If matching donors are willing to give a part of their body, it will alleviate the suffering of these patients. Dr Ahmed al Busaidi, Supervisor of the National Programme for Organ Transplantation, said, “We see the increasing social awareness of organ donation through people’s demand for registration in the Shifa application for organ donation after death, which is a positive sign."
He said the Ministry of Health strives to develop organ donations and transplants by training medical staff. The ministry works on strengthening laws, and ethical standards that ensure the rights and safety of donors and receivers.
The establishment of a National Centre for Organ Transplantation with the blessings of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik will make a qualitative leap in the healthcare for those in need of organ donation and their families. This also helps Oman to set up a database and address the challenges in organ donation and transplant.
The organ donation process is legally regulated in Oman through Ministerial Resolution No 179/2018, which sets conditions for donating human organs during life as well as after death. Article 4 stipulates that the donor should be an adult and a fourth-degree relative of the recipient. In case of emergency, a non-relative can donate organs with the MoH approval.
Article 10 stipulates the conditions for donation from the deceased if it is written in a will. A human organ or tissue may be transplanted with the consent of his guardian in case of brain death in accordance with the provision of Article 11 of these regulations.
The Omani Association for Organ Transplantation plays a tangible role in educating the community about the importance of organ donation and contributing to the rehabilitation of medical personnel through holding seminars and practical conferences.
Dr Ahmed al Busaidi called on citizens and residents to take the initiative to donate organs through the Shifa app and give hope to patients waiting for organ transplants.
Dr Neven bint Ibrahim al Kalbani, Senior Consultant of Pediatric Nephrology and Head of the Organ Transplant Department at the Royal Hospital, said the number of people registered in Shifa for organ donation after death is rising since its launch in December last year.
She added that work is being done to increase the number of transplants, to address the challenges and resolve them.
She pointed out that the number of patients suffering from chronic organ failure is increasing in Oman and the rest of the world due to lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and congenital disorders.
She explained that despite all the remarkable developments in science and technology, the optimal treatment for patients with organ failure is to transplant a healthy organ instead of the damaged organ, and the only source of these organs is humans. The demand for organs is more than supply. For example, there are approximately 2,500 patients who suffer from kidney failure in the Sultanate of Oman.
She said the most prominent challenge facing organ transplants in the Sultanate of Oman is to put in place highly qualified medical staff who can take care of patients during and after organ transplantation.
Another challenge is to earn the society's trust in medical institutions. Social media makes the situation complex as the narrative is often one-sided, unscientific and lacks objectivity. The culture of organ donation needs time and awareness to develop, she said. "There are misconceptions and beliefs about organ donation after death, including the inadmissibility of organ donation in Islam. Organ donation after death delays a lot in burial and mourning ceremonies. Changing these misconceptions take time and effort."
She said the focus is on successful transplant operations to enhance confidence and make sure that the health of the donor is not affected. Omani Organ Donation Day, which falls on December 19 of each year, was chosen to mark the first organ transplant in the Sultanate of Oman from a brain-dead donor in 1988.
Shaikh Dr Kahlan bin Nabhan al Kharusi, Assistant Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman, said organ donation after death does not mean sale of organs.
He clarified that organ donation is permissible under Islamic law because it saves lives. “But organ donation must be free of charge; an organ must not be sold. Islam urges saving lives and donating organs is one way of doing so. God has said in the Holy Quran, ‘And whoever saves one life, it is as though he has saved the lives of all mankind,'' Dr Al Kharusi said.
Dr Al Moatasem al Mamari, psychiatrist at Al Massara Hospital, said charity and donation are rooted in the Omani society. "Some people's fears about organ donation are unjustified because they are based on ignorance including the fear of disfigurement and that it leaves a psychological impact on their relatives. But there are some legitimate concerns that must be clarified. Organ donation gives the donor a sense of doing good during one's life."