As the kidney community faces this public health crisis head-on, many patients are asking this question: How is COVID-19 impacting transplants? While there isn’t a clear answer, yet, there is some good news.
"The good news is that transplants are considered critical surgeries and therefore CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has given guidelines on how to keep doing them," Sridhar Tayur Ford distinguished research chair and professor of operations management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, said in an article. “So unlike elective surgeries that, as you might have heard, are being postponed, transplant is considered a critical surgery and therefore they are not, en masse being postponed. Some transplants are, in fact taking place."
Decisions to move forward with transplant procedures are being made by the hospitals on a case by case basis. Factors including bed, staff, ventilators and equipment shortages are severely impacting hospitals’ capacity to proceed with these surgeries. Additionally, the shortage of COVID-19 tests makes it difficult for hospitals to confirm that both the donor and recipient aren’t infected with the virus.
The uncertainty of the virus and its impact on a recipient and living donor have also caused most transplant centers to postpone live donation. Juvenal Sluiter who was slated to receive a kidney transplant from his sister told the Wall Street Journal why he decided to postpone the procedure.
“I can’t only think about what will happen to me. We have to protect my sister and all the other people too,” said Sluiter.
Deceased-donor transplants are still moving forward, but transplant centers are taking extra precautions. The United Network of Oregon Sharing (UNOS) is working to provide real-time information and relay federal guidance to these centers and organ procurement organizations.
"UNOS is committed to supporting the donation and transplant community as they meet the challenges of the outbreak of COVID-19," said UNOS CEO Brian Shepard in a media statement. "Communications and cooperation are hallmarks of our community, and they have never been more important than they are today. As transportation, logistics, testing, and treatment challenges impact donation and transplant, it is important that the community remains transparent and flexible."
Stay informed with the latest news, participate in informational webinars and view changing transplant trends on UNOS’ website.