Organ transplants fell by a third during first wave of COVID-19

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The number of solid organ transplants performed globally dropped by 31% during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study has revealed.

Research presented at the European Society for Organ Transplantation (ESOT) Congress 2021 showed that the number of organ transplants performed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was over 30% lower than the number of those carried out in 2019. The study authors say that, according to modelling calculations, this drop in transplants resulted in over 48,000 years of patient life loss.

The findings have been published in the Lancet Public Health.

By analysing data from 22 countries, researchers discovered major variations in the response of transplant programmes to the COVID-19 pandemic, with transplant activity dropping by more than 90% in some countries. Japan and Argentina saw some of the biggest drops, whilst countries such as Norway and the US only experienced a slight fall.

Of the transplant types, kidney transplantation had the most significant reduction across nearly all countries during 2020 compared to 2019, with the study finding a decrease in living donor kidney (-40%) and liver (-33%) transplants. For deceased donor transplants, there was a reduction in kidney (-12%), liver (-9%), lung (-17%), and heart (-5%) transplants.

COVID-19 rates and reductions in transplants

In general, the researchers noted a strong correlation between increased COVID-19 infection rates and reductions in deceased and living solid organ transplants.

Dr Olivier Aubert, lead author of the study, commented: “The first wave of COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the number of transplants across many countries, affecting patient waiting lists and regrettably leading to a substantial loss of life.”

Professor Alexandre Loupy, head of the Paris Translational Research Center for Organ Transplantation and study author, added: “Living donor transplantation, which reduced more substantially, requires significant resources and planning compared to deceased donors. This is extremely difficult during a pandemic, and there are also major ethical concerns for the safety of the donor.

“It’s clear that there are many indirect deaths associated with COVID-19 and our study confirms that the pandemic has far-reaching consequences on many medical specialities.”

From the study findings, researchers have estimated that the numbers of life-years lost were 37,664 years for patients waitlisted for a kidney, 7,370 for a liver, 1,799 years for a lung, and 1,406 for a heart, equating to 48,239 life-years lost in total.

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