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Why you might soon be able to donate organs at death

Many kidney patients suffering without help because of the limitations of the law.

In Summary

• The Kenyan law allows kidney donation only among family members or close relatives.

• The government is working on a bill to ensure individuals can consent to have their organs harvested when they die.

A jovial Teresiah Wangare at the KNH on November 19, 2020
A jovial Teresiah Wangare at the KNH on November 19, 2020
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

Teresiah Wangare was diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease in 2008.

She started her dialysis sessions and continued them until 2011 when she did a kidney transplant after her sister donated one.

But in 2015, the kidney failed after developing a condition called Interstitial Fibrosis and Tubular Atrophy. She reverted to the machines she thought she would never use again. From November 2015, she has been a regular at Nairobi West Hospital.

"This was after the rejection. The problem now is getting another donor. In my case I have not had a willing donor from the family apart from my niece who was willing but unfortunately she was not a match,” Wangare said on Thursday at KNH.

“Unfortunately, I have to stay like this and hope for the best.”

Like Wangare, many kidney patients are suffering without help because of the limitations of the law. Some have individuals willing to donate to them but cannot because of a restrictive law.

The Kenyan law allows kidney donation among family members or close relatives. The aim is to bring ethics into the field and avert illegal harvesting and trafficking of human organs.

Wangare hopes the government can relook at the situation and allow non-relatives to donate kidneys to those in dire need.

Currently, the government is working on a bill to ensure individuals can consent to have their organs harvested when they die. Should the bill become law, it will help fix the problems that have befallen many patients.

“Probably, people see me in the village and they don’t know that I need an organ because they don’t know I undergo two dialysis sessions per week because that is working for me,” Wangare said.

Chronic kidney disease includes conditions that damage your kidneys and decrease their ability to function. The two main causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, which account for more than two thirds of the cases.

KNH has been conducting free kidney screening from November 11 , during which 600 pairs showed up together with potential donors. From the number, 34 pairs were matched and will undergo the transplant surgery in January next year.

Data shows that 10 per cent of adults have chronic kidney disease and millions of others are at increased risk. Early detection can prevent the progression of the disease to kidney failure.

According to the head of Renal Unit at KNH, Dr John Ngigi, the scarcity of organ donors worldwide has led to organ trafficking, prompting the world to come up with the disease donation programme that aims to ensure people willing harvesting of their organs when they die.

"Because of scarcity, the world over, 10 per cent of organs that are transplanted in the world are through the trafficking route and that is why the world has looked keenly into the issue of organ trafficking,” Ngigi said.

“To go round the problem of organ trafficking, which has emanated from the lack of donors, the world is then saying, why can’t we then do 'disease donation programme'. That’s why in times to come, we are going to see a situation where we are going to start a disease donation programme in Kenya where people will willingly donate their organs upon their demise.”

The medic, however, noted that this cannot happen without a robust legal framework.

"That’s why we are petitioning the lawmakers to come out very strongly and support us in this demand for giving us a legal framework that will allow us to set up a transplantation programme.”