The largest transplant network in the United States is taking a long-awaited step to help ease disparities in the way liver transplants are distributed across the country. According to a recent announcement by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the organization is proposing to redraw the map that governs how donated livers are distributed so that patients in certain high-demand regions will no longer need to leave home to increase their odds for a lifesaving transplant, NBC News reports.
Liver disease experts say one of the biggest difficulties people in need of liver transplants in this country have had to contend with is the fact that some parts of the United States have far fewer available organs and much higher demand for donated livers than others. For instance, California and New York can be some of the toughest places to get a new liver today, while South Carolina or Washington state often have much shorter waiting lists for liver transplants.
In practice, the regional disparities essentially increase the risk of death for patients on organ waiting lists based solely on where they live. However, advocates have long argued that shifting these boundaries and changing where donated livers get offered first may help address the issue.
Under UNOS’s proposal, the nation’s current 11 transplant regions would be expanded into eight larger “districts,” allowing for wider sharing of donated livers. The plan also aims to better mix areas where more potential donors live with places that have longer waiting lists to help even the field. The organization’s ultimate goal is to minimize the difference in the degree of liver damage at the time of transplant between patients across different areas of the country.
However, the new plan has encountered some backlash, especially from transplant centers with shorter wait times that don’t want to lose them. This would be particularly true in the South and the Northwest, for example, where transplant patients may have to wait a little longer under the new rules so that sicker people elsewhere could get a new organ sooner. The proposal will be open for comment from the public through mid-October before any changes are finalized. To check out the proposal online, click here.