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Why does the government want to change the organ transplant system?

A new initiative aims to modernize the system, strengthen equity and nearly double funding in 2024.
Surgical instruments and supplies lay on a table during a kidney transplant surgery.
Posted at 12:36 PM, Apr 26, 2023

The federal government wants to update the organ procurement and transplant system, according to an initiative outlined last month.

The plan, which was proposed by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, mentions modernizing the system, strengthening equity, and nearly doubling funding to $67 million in 2024 to make specific changes, among other points.

The nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, has been contracted to be in charge of the nation’s organ procurement and transplant system since the 1980s, winning multiple contract renewals.

Before then, there was no unity in organ transplantation across the country.

“By 1984, it became clear to members of Congress that transplantation in the United States was not organized at all,”  said Dr. Ben Vernon, a transplant surgeon at HealthOne Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver. “This is a very complicated, very unique situation: getting the right organ to the right person, at the right time, for the right reason.”

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Experts say there are pros and cons to the current system.

“The pros are that the system actually works very well to get deceased donor organs to the right recipients, I think,” Dr. Vernon said.

Some of the cons include long wait times and damaged or discarded organs.

“These organs don't last in preservation for a particularly long time and one needed to get them in quickly,” he said.

Right now, more than 103,000 Americans need an organ transplant, according to statistics from UNOS as of April 25, 2023.

"Of all the deceased donor organs that are recovered, not all are used,” Dr. Vernon said. “The system has some design flaws in it."

There is currently no timeline for the possible changes outlined in the initiative.

April is National Donate Life Month, which focuses on the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation.

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