For the first time, HIV-positive individuals will be able to receive organs from HIV-positive donors in the United States, opening up a new pipeline of treatment according to advocates.
Johns Hopkins recently received approval from the United Network for Organ Sharing to perform two transplants between HIV-positive patients: one kidney and one liver.
The number of HIV-positive donors is estimated between 500 and 600, according to the New York Times. Those donors could save nearly 1,000 people a year.
The new policy will give HIV-positive patients with end-stage organ disease a "new chance at life," according to Dr. Dorry Segev, associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an advocate for the HIV Organ Equality Act.
For many years, HIV-positive patients weren't considered good candidates for organ transplants, as they were not expected to live long. Though they were not forbidden from receiving donor organs from HIV-negative patients, transplants — or even the study of transplants — between two HIV-positve people has been illegal since 1988. But with the onset of better medications and longer, healthier lifespans the possibilities opened up.
In 2013, President Obama signed the HIV Organ Policy Equality Act, which legalized transplants between poz patients. The new law seems to be a win all-around, as HIV-positive patients will have more potential donors while HIV-negative patients might move up the organ donor lists.
"Organ transplantation is actually even more important for patients with HIV, since they die on the waiting list even faster than their HIV-negative counterparts. We are very thankful to Congress, Obama, and the entire transplant community for letting us use organs from HIV-positive patients to save lives, instead of throwing them away, as we had to do for so many years,” said Segev.
Segev warned New York Times reporter Daniel Victor that it will be slow at first to get the positive-to-positive transplants operations going because these transplants were illegal for decades, and medical centers aren't equipped to perform them yet. In addition, organs will only be taken from deceased donors for now until it is established that it safe for a living HIV-positive patient to donate.