While the donation rate has stagnated over the last decade the need for transplant organs continues to increase with the majority of the waitlist is made up of people in need of a donor kidney.
Postgraduate economics and finance student researcher Elizabeth Prasad says kidney disease is a significant problem for the New Zealand healthcare system, in large part due to the rapidly increasing incidence of diabetes.
Her study, supervised by Professor Bob Reed, investigated the law and economics of New Zealand’s organ transplant regime.
“Patients suffering from kidney failure must either undergo a transplant or have regular dialysis treatments for the rest of their life. There are currently over 2500 New Zealanders receiving dialysis but only 115 transplant operations were performed in 2013,” Prasad says.
“My research found that in addition to increasing patient life expectancy and quality of life, kidney transplants are also a far more cost-effective treatment than dialysis.
“After the initial cost of surgery, follow up care and medication for transplant patients is much less costly than keeping the patient on dialysis. Transplants are slightly more expensive in the long-run but only because transplant patients live for so much longer than dialysis patients.
“The equivalent of a year of good health provided by dialysis costs five times as much as a year of good health provided by a transplant. The shortage of organ donors is therefore both a health crisis and a financial burden. I have researched the effectiveness of policies introduced in other countries to increase organ donation.
“One promising option is a new law recently introduced in Israel which gives priority to living donors, registered donors and families. This new system has shown promising early results.
“But paying people for their organs should also be considered. Prohibition on compensation for donors places an additional restriction on the already limited supply of organs and unintentionally encourages the operation of black markets.
“While payment for organ donors conjures up images of organ trafficking, in a developed country like New Zealand paid organ donation could be instituted safely and fairly. Relying on altruistic donation has resulted in people dying unnecessarily on the waitlist.”
Prasad says donors are not adequately compensated for the time they have to take off work while recovering from surgery. She starts working with the Macquarie Bank in Sydney next month, after doing an internship there last year.
Professor Reed says Prasad was one of 2109 business students at the University of Canterbury last year, including 368 postgraduate students.
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