What’s the alternative?
For most people, an organ transplant is the best treatment for organ failure and can be life-saving.
For people with kidney failure, the alternative is dialysis. But this gives shorter survival, poorer quality of life, and incurs higher costs to the health system than treatment with a kidney transplant. For the heart, liver and lungs, there are no other long-term options; without a transplant, people whose organs fail will eventually die.
But there are not enough organ donors to go round. Around 1,500 Australians are waiting for a transplant.
Even so, the option of receiving a donor organ with even a very small risk of transmitting infection may not seem immediately appealing. But this needs to be balanced against the considerable health consequences of foregoing a transplant and remaining on the waiting list.
In 2018 in Australia there were 554 deceased donors who donated organs to 1,543 transplant recipients. Over the same period, 39 people died while waiting for a transplant, and a further 236 were removed from the waiting list due to ill health.
Even with our newly calculated low risk of transmission, there are ways of minimising the risks further, or with new treatments, curing the viral infections if they are transmitted.
For instance, with HIV, medications could be provided to recipients, to further reduce the risk of transmission. If the recipient develops hepatitis C, there are now drugs that can cure it completely. And, for hepatitis B, many people are now vaccinated, which prevents transmission.