On March 30th, doctors at Johns Hopkins announced that they have successfully completed the first liver and kidney transplant from an HIV positive donor. The surgeries were completed a couple of weeks ago and both patients are doing well, one has already gone home and the other is expected to go home soon. The liver and kidney came from the same HIV positive donor and each organ went to two separate HIV positive recipients. The transplant marks the first successful HIV-to-HIV transplant in the United States; similar transplants, however, have been performed in South Africa.
Johns Hopkins is the first U.S. hospital to gain approval from the United Network for Organ Sharing, a non-profit organization that manages the federal government’s organ transplant system. The approval is a big victory for the surgeons, infectious disease specialists, and the HIV advocates who spent years lobbying the federal government to allow the transplants. Since 1988, when Congress amended the National Organ Transplant Act, HIV positive individuals have been banned from becoming organ donors. The amendment was a response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s when HIV almost certainly led to AIDS and then death. However, HIV is now a manageable chronic disease and not the fatal public health crisis that it was in 1980s. It was not until the HIV Organ Policy Equality Act (HOPE Act) was passed in 2013 that medical professionals were allowed to begin researching the possibility of a HIV-to-HIV organ transplant.
The HOPE Act and the recent success at Johns Hopkins will give those who are HIV positive a better chance at getting an organ transplant. Prior to the HOPE Act, HIV positive individuals could be organ recipients, but viable organs were being wasted because they came from individuals who were HIV positive. A study conducted before the passage of the HOPE Act estimated that 500-600 individuals infected with HIV could donate organs annually, possibly saving 1,000 lives every year.
There is approximately 122,000 people on the transplant list at any given time and there is a consistent shortage of donors. Although many people who need organs die on the transplant list, individuals with HIV are particularly vulnerable and die even faster than their HIV negative counterparts. HIV-to-HIV organ transplants will benefit both people who are HIV negative and HIV positive. Allowing the transplants will enable HIV positive individuals to get much needed organs faster by utilizing good organs that had previously wasted. It will also benefit people who are HIV negative by shortening the transplant waiting list.
This has all been made possible by the passage of the HOPE Act and the work done at Johns Hopkins. Medical professionals at Johns Hopkins hope to share the protocols they developed with other transplant centers around the country, so that the procedure will benefit many more nationwide.