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Finally, We're Positive About Transplants

Positive Transplants

The first HIV-positive organ transplants have begun.

For the first time, HIV-positive individuals may now receive organs from HIV-positive donors in the United States, opening up a new pipeline of treatment, according to advocates. 

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently received approval from the United Network for Organ Sharing to perform two transplants between HIV-positive patients: one kidney and one liver. It’s the first and only medical center approved for such an operation. 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 diseases a “new chance at life,” says Dr. Dorry Segev, associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, and an advocate for the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act.

For many years, HIV-positive patients weren’t considered good candidates for organ donations, 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-positive people had been illegal since 1988. But with the onset of better medications and longer, healthier, lifespans for people with HIV, new possibilities opened up. In 2013, President Obama signed the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act, which legalized transplants between poz patients. The new law seems to be a win-win, 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,” said Segev. “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.” 

Segev warned TheNew York Times reporter Daniel Victor that it will be slow at first to  begin positive-to-positive organ transplants, as these transplants were illegal for decades, and most medical centers aren’t yet equipped to perform them. In addition, organs will only be taken from deceased donors for now until it is established that it safe for living HIV-positive persons to donate.

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