Organ donor numbers fall to lowest level in 20 years

The number of organ donors in Germany reached a new low in 2017. According to statistics from the German Foundation for Organ Transplantation (DSO), there were only 797 donors, 60 fewer than in the previous year. This is the lowest level in 20 years, the foundation announced. Compared with other European countries, Germany is in a very poor position.

"Unfortunately, we will slip below the ten donors per million population mark for the first time ever. In 2017, there were 9.7," the dpa quotes Axel Rahmel, Medical Director of the DSO. In the history of the foundation, this has never happened before, not counting the early years of organ donation more than 30 years ago. "In an international comparison, Germany has so far been in the lower midfield. Now we are almost behind all other Western European countries in comparison. This is a dramatic development." The DSO figures refer to the 10. January registered organs for 2017 without living donations.

Rahmel sees the reasons for the decline in donor numbers in Germany less in the lack of willingness of the population. One cause, he says, is the enormous compression of services in clinics. It would also like to see improvements in the organization of the approximately 1250 clinics in Germany that are part of the organ donation system. In 2017, for example, Bavaria released transplantation officers for their duties for the first time. Organ donor numbers in Bavaria rose by 18 percent in 2017, the highest figure among all German states, he said.

No age limit for organ donation

Overall, the development of organ donor numbers in Germany varied greatly from region to region in 2017. While besides Bavaria, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland also recorded an increase in donors, the national trend was generally downward. Because multiple organs can be removed from one donor, Germany reported a total of 2594 kidneys, livers, lungs or hearts to the international intermediary Eurotransplant in 2017, according to the DSO. In 2016, there were 2867 organs. There is no age limit for organ donors.

According to its own figures, Spain is the world leader in organ donation, with 46.9 donors per million inhabitants a year. That represents an eight percent increase since 2016, the Spanish Ministry of Health announced last week. There the contradiction solution applies: People must document it explicitly if they are against an organ removal after their death. This approach was demanded by SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach in an interview with the Nordwest-Zeitung (NWZ), a newspaper published in Oldenburg, Germany.

According to information from the Suddeutsche Zeitung, Belgium and Croatia are also far ahead with more than 30 organ donors per million inhabitants. Germany is in a network with Belgium, Croatia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary and Slovenia for organ exchange via Eurotransplant. Rahmel sees no danger of Eurotransplant excluding Germany because of low donor numbers. Due to its large population, Germany still contributes more organs to the network than other countries in absolute terms.

"Although more than 100 million euros were spent on advertising and organizing last year, organ donation is at rock bottom," criticized Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the German Foundation for Patient Protection. Nevertheless the topic is mentioned in the exploratory paper of Union and SPD with no word. With 10,000 critically ill people on the waiting list, urgent action is warranted, he said. The transplant system, for example, belongs in state hands, Brysch demanded. This is the only way to restore the trust of the population and of hospital physicians.

Lauterbach added: "People are not even concretely aware of the value of organ donation, they don't know what it means to wait desperately for an organ to arrive."

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