How could this happen? It has been reported that a man who fell to his death in Taiwan last week had his family donate his organs to needing recipients. However, the family was not aware he was HIV positive and now five patients are infected with the deadly virus.
Taiwan's health authorities said Sunday they are currently investigating a case of "critical medical negligence."
Medical technicians performing standard blood tests found that Chiu was HIV positive before his liver, lungs and kidneys were transplanted, but the message was wrongly relayed and doctors were given the green light for the operations.
Doctors at the two hospitals have prescribed preventive medicines for the five recipients. Besides taking anti-rejection drugs, the patients have also been offered emergency anti-AIDS medications, which lead physician, Dr. Hung said would not harm their newly transplanted organs.
Citing medical studies, Hung said the transplant recipients would be able to largely inhibit HIV reproduction after taking anti-AIDS drugs for two weeks.
"They have to continue taking the medications for at least two months, and it will take an estimated six months to determine whether any of them have contracted HIV. They were all shocked and stunned. This was a very rare and extremely regrettable case."
It marked the first time in Taiwan that organs from a known HIV-carrier were transplanted into patients and local media said the responsible staff, if found guilty, may face a jail term of up to 10 years and the National Taiwan University Hospital may be barred from doing similar operations for a year.
The donating gentleman's mother stated:
"I did not know that my son had contracted HIV. Otherwise, I would absolutely not have proposed that his organs be donated."
According to data, the HIV infection rate normally exceeds 90% for those who get HIV contaminated blood transfusions, and the probability is also very high for those who receive transplants of organs from HIV carriers because the blood in such organs tends to carry the virus.
In another angle to the story, currently in the United States at least, HIV patients are not allowed to donate to other infected persons as well. If the U.S. Congress reversed its ban on allowing people with HIV to be organ donors after their death, roughly 500 HIV-positive patients with kidney or liver failure each year could get transplants within months, rather than the years they currently wait on the list, new Johns Hopkins research suggests.
Dorry L. Segev, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study's senior author explains:
"If this legal ban were lifted, we could potentially provide organ transplants to every single HIV-infected transplant candidate on the waiting list. Instead of discarding the otherwise healthy organs of HIV-infected people when they die, those organs could be available for HIV-positive candidates."
Not only would HIV-positive transplant candidates get organs sooner if such transplants were legalized, Segev says, but by transplanting those patients and moving them off the waiting list, the time to transplant would be shorter for non-HIV-infected patients.
The ban on organ donation by HIV-positive patients is a relic of the 1980s, when it was still unclear what caused AIDS, at the time a devastating new epidemic sweeping the United States. Congress put the ban into the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 and it has never been updated, despite the fact that HIV is no longer an immediate death sentence but a chronic disease managed with medication.
Although the Taiwan tragedy is very serious, it has opened the door to further discussion about the right to life and HIV infected to infected donations.
Written by Sy Kraft