Each year, about 400,000 Americans with kidney disorders undergo regular dialysis — a costly and time-consuming procedure — to remain alive.
Ideally, these people would receive kidney transplants so they wouldn’t have to spend hours each week tethered to a dialysis machine, but the demand for donated organs in the United States far outweighs the supply. (According to the PBS NewsHour, the wait for a kidney in America averages three to five years.)
Why, you might ask? In part, because many Americans just aren’t aware of how important it is to register as a potential organ donor. Add that to the fact that the topic of organ donation makes some people squeamish and unwilling to discuss it with loved ones.
But a series of new programs in Australia might provide a model for how to promote organ donation in the United States. Australia’s recent interventions have increased the rate of donation to the highest it’s been in 25 years. What’s the secret from Down Under?
Yael Cass, the CEO of the Organ and Tissue Authority told Sara James of the PBS NewsHour, “The key thing that we’ve done is that we’ve picked best practice from around the globe.”
Those include raising public awareness of the problem through media campaigns and offering paid leave from work from living donors. Additionally, the Australian government reimburses employers for the time donors take off to recuperate.
Australia also trained 600 health professionals in important techniques related to organ donation — such as how to broach the topic of donation with grieving families. They also created a kidney donation database that registers and compares the stats of the chronically ill waiting for kidneys with those of potential donors.
These efforts have increased the rates of donation in Australia by 60 percent over the last four years, Cass said.
The policies made the difference in Rosemary Wehbe deciding to become a donor for her brother. She didn’t want to lose income from her work as a photography teacher in Sydney, but because of the reimbursement program, she didn’t have to worry about that. Her brother, Simon, told James, “What is it like to feel like someone saved your life? I owe her my life, really.”
Let’s hope that the U.S. considers adopting some of these pro-donation policies and that more lives are saved as a result.