There are about 500 HIV-positive people in need of kidney transplants and countless others with HIV who need different lifesaving transplants. Their plight is complicated by the fact that, since 1984, HIV-positive people have been barred from donating organs—but that may soon change.
The HIV Organ Policy Equity, or HOPE, Act is advancing through Congress and could be the first step in allowing HIV-positive people to donate organs to others with HIV. If passed, the legislation would end that ban and initiate a review process for the secretary of Health and Human Services to evaluate medical research on transplants between HIV-positive donors and recipients, and if the research satisfies the secretary, such procedures could begin.
Organs from HIV-positive people have already been successfully transplanted in others with HIV in South Africa. Back in the U.S., while organ donation by HIVers remains banned, patients with diseases such as hepatitis C are allowed to donate organs to others with the disease. The singling out of HIV when it comes to organ donation doesn’t make sense, supporters say.
“The HOPE Act is a bipartisan, commonsense bill that reflects the progress we are making in medicine, as well as in breaking down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS,” Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic cosponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “By allowing us to move forward with this critical research, the HOPE Act will help decrease the organ wait time, save countless lives, and reduce health care costs in the long-run.”
Many believe that benefits of the HOPE Act will extend beyond people with HIV. Currently, Medicare covers care for those experiencing kidney failure; if HIV-positive patients could receive new kidneys, it’s estimated their health care costs could be cut by $500,000 per patient. HOPE would also make more organs available to HIV-negative people, since those with HIV currently receive organs from the same pool of HIV-negative donors.
For HIV-positive people, though, the HOPE Act means another step toward health decisions being based on science, not old fears.
“This legislation represents a positive step forward for sensible HIV and health policy by removing outdated barriers to common-sense, data-driven procedures for the donation of life-saving organs,” writer Andrew Cray argued on AmericanProgress.org. “These changes have the potential to change the lives of thousands of individuals in need of organ transplants, demonstrating a shift in the dialogue around donation policies for individuals with or at risk for HIV infection.”