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'Worrying' decline in living kidney donations

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
kidneys and blood vessels anatomy

8th March 2018 – Health officials are warning of a "worrying" decline in living kidney donations, with figures reaching an 8-year low.

There were 990 living kidney donors during 2017, a 10.3% decline on the highest ever year, 2013, when there were 1,104, according to NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).

The figures have been released for World Kidney Day alongside an appeal for more people to consider making a donation while they are still alive.

Most living donations are between family and friends. People can also choose to donate altruistically, when their kidney is matched anonymously to a suitable person on the waiting list.

NHSBT says the decline is worrying because living kidney donation has accounted for more than 40% of all donors and a third of all kidney transplants for people waiting.

Receiving a kidney transplant is normally the best treatment for end stage kidney disease compared with dialysis. A transplant from a living kidney donor offers the best chance of a successful transplant.

Lisa Burnapp, lead nurse for kidney donation at NHSBT, says in a statement: "Last year, 261 people died waiting for a kidney transplant, and many of those lives could have been saved through increased living kidney donation."

Women 'more likely to donate'

The appeal coincides with research published in the journal Visceral Medicine which found that women are more likely to donate kidneys than men.

Data from Europe, that includes the UK, shows that 36% of women who are clinically suitable go on to donate a kidney to their husband. However, only 7% of clinically suitable men go on to donate a kidney for their wife.

Experts say it may be because women are more generous.

Kidney disease

In the UK, around 1 in 8 people will develop chronic kidney disease (CKD), similar to the global figure of 12%.

Around 64,000 people in the UK are being treated for kidney failure, in which kidney function is less than 15%.

There are between 40,000 and 45,000 premature deaths in the UK every year due to CKD.

In high income countries, data suggests that 60% to 65% of kidney transplant recipients are men.

Between 2011 and 2017 in the UK, 62% of kidney transplant recipients were men compared with 38% of women.

Of living kidney donors, 65% were women and 35% were men, figures show.

Data from several countries, including the UK, show that higher proportions of women live with advanced CKD. While there are specific conditions unique to women that could explain this, experts believe it may be because they tend to live longer than men with serious CKD and take longer to reach the stage where a transplant is needed.

Waiting lists

Professor Adeera Levin, past president of the International Society of Nephrology, from the University of British Colombia, Canada, comments: "Although it is hard to pinpoint a specific reason for higher numbers of wives being donors than husbands, the evidence suggests women are motivated by reasons such as altruism and the desire to help their family continue to survive.

Figures from NHSBT show there are currently 6,298 people on the transplant waiting list, including 4,960 people waiting for a kidney.

According to Kidney Care UK, the average wait for a transplant is 3 years, although the charity says this varies across the country.

The proposed 'opt out' systems being considered for different UK countries, and the one already in place Wales, do not affect living donation.

Reviewed on March 08, 2018

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