“It wasn’t a medical issue. It was entirely legal.”
In the United States, there is a high demand for organ transplants, but with a shortage of available organs, patients often find themselves waiting for months or even years, many of them dying in the process.
One community especially affected by this shortage is people living with HIV, who have increased risk of kidney and liver failure. Due to social stigma and legal blockades, these patients often bore the brunt of the organ donation waiting game, but no longer.
Earlier this month, doctors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine performed the first successful kidney and liver transplants for HIV-positive recipients.
The source of the organs? An HIV-positive donor.
Here’s what this really means for medicine:
One of the biggest players in the recent surgeries was Dr. Dorry L. Segev, who found it unacceptable that HIV-positive patients could be stuck waiting–even dying–just to get a crucial transplant.
“It wasn’t a medical issue,” he said, “It was entirely legal.”
The ban on HIV-infected organ transplants traces its roots back to the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, and a later revision in 1988.
In the ’80s, when the AIDS crisis was at its peak, this precaution made sense. People were dying en masse from HIV and AIDS, and treatment at the time was nowhere near where it’s at now. Some organ transplants had even spread the virus, and doctors and lawmakers felt that continuing to allow HIV-infected transplants could kill positive patients even more quickly.
Today, people with the diseases can go on to live long and healthy lives. A 2010 study showed that HIV-positive transplant recipients were recovering from their surgeries as well as their HIV-negative counterparts. Surgeons like Segev believed it was time for a change in policy that reflected the state of these advancements in treatment.