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Record number of organ transplants in 2021, as harvesting skills improve

Despite COVID-19 pandemic, there were 647 donations carried out last year, including a 30% increase in ‘altruistic’ donors who were not acquainted with the recipient

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prof. Eitan Mor of Sheba Medical Center inspects a kidney from Israeli woman Shani Markowitz, just before it was transported to the United Arab Emirates (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)
Prof. Eitan Mor of Sheba Medical Center inspects a kidney from an Israeli woman, just before it was transported to the United Arab Emirates (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

The past year saw a record number of organ transplants carried out in Israel, with 647 organs donated in total from both living and deceased donors, according to figures released Tuesday by the Health Ministry’s National Transplant Center.

The figures for 2021 showed a 22 percent increase over the 530 transplants in 2020.

Operations were up on a range of organs including 145 kidney transplants (up from 118 in 2020), 87 liver transplants (compared to 72 the year before), 24 heart transplants (up from 20) and 55 lung transplants (up from 34). There were also 788 corneas transplanted (up from 640 in 2020).

The past year also saw a marked increase in the number of living donors willing to give up organs, with 336 such transplants compared to 287 in 2020. Altruistic donors, meaning those who were not acquainted with the recipients, jumped by 30% from 188 in 2020 to 243 in 2021. Among family donors, there was also a rise of 10%, from 85 in 2020 to 94 in 2021.

Though the percentage of people who are willing to donate organs after death remains the same, the number of transplants has increased due to better capabilities at saving organs, according to a report from the Walla news website.

There has been a largely consistent rise in organ donations over the past 10 years, though it dipped slightly in 2019 to 575 and then further in 2020 to 530 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Prof. Rafael Biar, chair of the National Transplant Center’s steering committee and director of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, welcomed the latest figures.

Living donors “gave a gift to others from their own bodies,” he told Ynet. “My heart goes out to the families of organ donors who lost their loved ones and who, beyond the bereavement and chaos, decided to save a life.”

Tamar Ashkenazi, director of the transplant center, said there was also an increase in those who joined the international kidney donation database.

Implementation of a donation agreement signed with Austria has been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, she said, but there is hope it will be realized at the beginning of 2022. Cooperation with the United Arab Emirates is already working, Ashkenazi noted. A transplant earlier this year saw three women receive kidneys in a complex exchange between the two countries. It was the first such exchange of organs between Israel and an Arab country. There were also two kidney transplants coordinated with the Czech Republic.

There are 1,299 Israelis currently waiting for organ transplants, an increase of 3% over 2020, Walla reported. During the course of 2021, 68 people on the transplant waiting list died.

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