EU looks at increasing supply of transplant organs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe’s health chief proposed ways Monday to improve availability of transplant organs across frontiers and reduce the number of people who can die while awaiting an operation.

Organ shortage is a common problem in all European Union countries, with some 56,000 patients waiting for a suitable organ donor across the EU’s 27 member countries and 12 people dying every day while waiting for organ transplantation.

Now, the European Commission wants to see every EU country set up a national authority to ensure compliance with EU quality and safety standards — including a traceability system for human organs and checks on serious adverse events and reactions.

Data collection on specific organ characteristics would be standardized to ease exchange of human organs, under proposals presented by EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. They will now be discussed by EU ministers.

“These measures are all about saving lives,” Vassiliou said.

“We want to reassure citizens and patients across Europe that the EU and member states are working together to maximize efforts to provide high quality and safe transplantation systems,” she said in a statement.

Under an accompanying but non-binding six-year plan to run from 2009, EU countries would be encouraged to create transplant donor coordinators in every hospital and take steps to improve donor identification to increase cross-border organ donation.

Vassiliou aims to improve the quality and safety of organs across Europe, while raising organ availability and minimizing risks for the recipients as well as providing the transplant surgeon with the necessary information to make the best choice.

For many patients, transplantation is the only life-saving treatment available. But there are wide variations across the EU in yearly donation rates, ranging from 34.6 donations per million people in Spain to 0.5 per million in Romania.

There are also big differences in people’s willingness to donate organs. According to a 2007 poll carried out at the request of the Commission, for example, 40 percent of families in Britain said they would refuse to donate an organ from a deceased family member. The EU average was about 50 percent.

(Reporting by Jeremy Smith)

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