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Mexico Reorganizes its Organ Transplant System - 2003-01-31

More than 35,000 transplants have been done since Mexico's organ transplant system began in 1963. But desperate demand for donor organs is constantly outstripping supply.

Last year 4,000 transplants were done, yet the waiting list has swelled to 18,000 and is increasing. Fifteen percent of those on this list, many of whom are suffering from heart problems and liver failure, will die before they reach the operating room.

Now an effort is being made by the Mexican government to better fill the demand for organs by coordinating transplant programs at Mexico City's two largest trauma hospitals.

Dr. Arturo Dib Kuri, who is director-general of the National Transplant Center, says that will make organ donations from brain dead accident victims more available.

"This is going to be the first step to obtain organs in these two big hospitals for many of the rest of the national hospitals which need organs," he said.

Problems other than availability of donor organs also plague Mexico's transplant system. One extremely destructive myth which permeates Latin America, concerns children who are kidnapped for their organs. But Dr. Dib Kuri says that the tremendous complexity of each transplant operation and especially the aftercare to prevent rejection, makes a crime like this impossible.

"I don't know any organization that would be able to support hospital, nurses, physicians, criminals kidnapping people, without any notice in the world. It is not possible," he insisted.

Although the Social Security Institute comprises more than 70 percent of Mexico's overall health services, other smaller organizations are also part of the current fragmented transplant system.

This can cause confusion for patients on the national transplant waiting list, because people can be a lot lower on it than they thought. Dr. Omar Sanchez, who is Director of Planning and Coordination at the Center, explains. "When you are looking for which place a patient is located on this waiting list, you have also to consider that maybe with his institution he is in first place, but in the national waiting list, he is in the middle or last," he said. Forty-one year old Gerardo Mendoza suffers from a rare protein disorder called Sistinosis. He had his first kidney transplant in 1977, and another in 1986. He is now waiting for a third. He explains he has seen many changes in the system during his 26 years of treatment and all for the better. "If you were maybe in a private hospital, you had, before more possibilities," he said. "Now it is equal. The waiting list is very, very good. It is very organized, and we have many things to do, but it is getting better."

The center has recently launched a nationwide campaign issuing six-million donor cards. It also has its own web page to raise public awareness of organ donations. For a person who desperately needs an operation to save their life and infinitely improve its quality, this could be an answer that goes beyond hope and prayer.