Doctors at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have been given the okay to become the first hospital in the country to perform HIV-positive to HIV-positive organ transplants.
“This is an unbelievably exciting day for our hospital and our team, but more importantly for patients living with HIV and end-stage organ disease,” said Dorry Segev, associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “For these individuals, this means a new chance at life.”
This announcement brings to fruition the two-year effort Segev put into helping draft the 2013 HOPE Act—a bill signed by President Obama that made it possible for HIV-positive individuals to donate organs, and one of only 57 bills passed in 2013.
Approximately 122,000 people are on the U.S. transplant waiting list at any one time. Thousands die each year, many of whom may have lived had they gotten the organ they needed. Meanwhile, Segev estimates that each year, about 500 to 600 HIV-positive would-be organ donors had organs that could have saved more than 1,000 people—if only the medical community had been allowed to use the organs for transplant.
The antiquated law, which the HOPE Act reversed, prevented doctors from using organs from HIV-positive donors, even if they were intended to be given to an HIV-positive patient desperately in need of the organ. Despite the positive outcomes of non-HIV transplants in HIV-positive recipients and the proven results of HIV-positive to HIV-positive kidney transplants in South Africa, HIV-positive to HIV-positive transplantation in the United States was not a possibility until now.
The first approved HIV-positive to HIV-positive transplant could take place as soon as a suitable organ should become available and a recipient is successfully identified and prepared.
“Organ transplantation is actually even more important for patients with HIV, since they die on the waiting list even faster than their HIV-negative counterparts,” Segev says. “We are very thankful to Congress, Obama, and the entire transplant community for letting us use organs from HIV-positive patients to save lives, instead of throwing them away, as we had to do for so many years.”