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Some 1,298 fewer procedures were carried out after the virus took hold in the UK compared to the same period in 2019, according to researchers.
There were 1,076 fewer kidney transplants (down 36 percent), 147 liver (down 18 percent), 69 lung (down 48 percent) and six fewer heart (down 4 percent) procedures.
Study lead Dr Olivier Aubert, assistant professor at the Paris Translational Research Centre for Organ Transplantation, said: “The first wave of Covid-19 had a devastating impact on the number of transplants across many countries, affecting patient waiting lists and regrettably leading to a substantial loss of life.”
After analysing the impact of Covid-19 on transplants in 22 countries, researchers noted a 16 percent drop overall.
Experts counted the number of transplants between the date when each nation reported its 100th Covid case and the end of the year. They then compared this with the same period in 2019. They found the pandemic resulted in more than 11,200 fewer operations, while modelling suggested more than 48,000 years of life were lost as a result.
Transplants were delayed across the globe as health systems turned their attention to dealing with a tidal wave of Covid-19 cases.
Strain on intensive care departments and the dangers of infection meant the risks and benefits to patients had to be carefully weighed.
Researchers said the large number of missing kidney transplants is because they can usually be postponed without risking life.
The decline in procedures was greatest during the first three months of the pandemic, when rates plunged by a third.
But some countries managed to maintain transplants relatively well. In Switzerland, the USA and Norway they dropped by only one, four and seven percent, respectively.
At the same time, numbers plummeted by 67 percent in Japan and 61 percent in Argentina, which Dr Aubert believes to be significant. He explained: “Understanding how different countries and healthcare systems responded to Covid-19-related challenges can facilitate improved pandemic preparedness and how to safely maintain transplant programmes to provide life-saving procedures for patients.”
Transplants involving living donors were worst affected, falling by 40 percent overall across the countries, compared to an 11 percent drop in deceased donor transplants.
Loupy, head of the Paris research centre, explained that living donations required more planning. He said: “This is extremely difficult during a pandemic when resources are stretched and staff redeployed.
“There are also major ethical concerns for the wellbeing and safety of the donor. Our study confirms that the pandemic has far-reaching consequences on many medical specialties.” NHS Blood and Transplant’s (NHSBT) report for 2020/21 shows transplants were down by 30 percent on 2019/20.
There were 3,391 procedures carried out, compared to 4,820 in 2019/20 – a drop of 1,429. The figures also include pancreas and intestinal transplants.
John Forsythe, medical director of organ and tissue donation and transplantation at NHSBT, said: “This has been an unprecedented year for the NHS, so the fact that we managed to maintain three quarters of our normal donation and transplantation activity is absolutely phenomenal. There’s no escaping the fact that organ donation and transplantation will take some time to recover.”
He added: “This has been a very worrying time for those patients and their families. We would like to reassure them that the recovery of organ donation and transplantation, both living and deceased, is well under way and deceased donation rates are back to pre-Covid levels, thanks to the huge support of all those families who agree to donation and the clinical teams who work tirelessly.”
The study was published in The Lancet journal and presented at the European Society for Organ Transplantation Congress.
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