Date published: 
26 February 2020
Media type: 
Media release
Audience: 
General public

The lives of 1,683 Australians were saved last year by organ transplants made possible through the generosity of 787 organ donors, data released today by the Organ and Tissue Authority shows. 

Thanks to 548 deceased organ donors and their families, 113 hearts, 857 kidneys, 183 lungs, 308 livers and 40 pancreases were gifted to 1,444 people through Australia’s organ donor program, DonateLife.  

There were also 239 living donations of a kidney and one liver in 2019. Forty-nine of these living kidney transplants were made possible by the recently expanded Australian and New Zealand Kidney Exchange Program, that is increasing access to life-saving kidney transplants for residents of both countries.  

Minister for Regional Health Mark Coulton said none of this would happen without donors, and their families who have made the decision at a time of immense grief to say ‘yes’ to organ donation. 

“I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you,” Minister Coulton said while participating in the Gift of Life Walk, which raises the profile of the importance of registering as an organ donor. 

A record number of Australians also benefited from eye and tissue donation last year, with 2,414 people receiving a corneal transplant. Tissue transplantation transformed the lives of a further 10,310 Aussies. 

The 2019 data shows an increase in the number of potential donors identified in Australian hospitals, and an increase in the number of families who agreed to donate their deceased loved ones’ organs. 

“Our 275 dedicated donation specialists work tirelessly across 98 hospitals nationwide to ensure best clinical practice and to support families through organ and tissue donation, resulting in more people benefiting from a lifesaving transplant whenever it is possible,” Minister Coulton said. 

“DonateLife clinical staff provide an outstanding service that has seen Australia more than double the number of organ donors in the past decade.” 

In 2019, 756 families said ‘yes’ to donation; however 208 of these potential donors were unable to give their organs for reasons including medical suitability and logistics. The proportion of potential donors who did not proceed to donation was higher in 2019 compared with 2018.  
“Unfortunately, not everyone can become an organ donor,” Minister Coulton said.  

“There are only about 1,300 Australians a year – around two per cent of those who die in hospital – who make up this precious cohort.  

“So it is critical that every Australian who supports organ donation registers to be a donor. By being registered, and importantly telling your family, you are giving a fellow Australian a fighting chance at life. 

“Australians are a nation of givers. We help people in need. We’re calling on that Aussie spirit to ask all Australians to take a minute and register as an organ and tissue donor at donatelife.gov.au and, importantly, tell their family,” he said.  

Minister Coulton welcomed the release last Friday of a Commonwealth Government report reviewing Australia’s organ donation, retrieval and transplant systems. 

He said the number of people who received an organ transplant in 2019 has decreased by six per cent, despite the number of deceased donors remaining relatively stable, so the release of this report was timely. 

The organ donation and transplantation sector is focused on understanding the complexities affecting donation and the ability to use organs for transplant. These factors include an increasing number of donors having previously undiagnosed chronic disease that limits medical suitability.  

“We are achieving excellent results in identifying potential donors and more Australians are saying yes to donation, but we know this success is placing pressure on the retrieval and transplant sector,” he said. 

“The whole system must be functioning well, from organ donation to retrieval and transplantation.” 

Outcomes of the review will inform the development of a long-term national strategy to focus on building the capacity and capability to optimise donation outcomes now and in the future.  
The rarity of donation highlights why it is so important for everyone, regardless of whether they believe they would be a suitable donor, to join the register. 

“Let the decision on whether your organs are suitable for transplant to the medical experts. Even if you are unable to donate your organs, you could still have the opportunity to restore someone’s sight or heal burns by being an eye or tissue donor.” 
 
Fast facts:

  • Families of potential donors must agree before organ donation can proceed. Data shows that registering to be a donor has a considerable impact on family consent.  
  • Nine out of 10 families agree to donation when their loved one is registered on the Australian Organ Donor Register.
  • The rate falls to six out of 10 when families were unaware of their loved-one’s wishes regarding organ donation.
  • Since 2009, when the Organ and Tissue Authority was established, 4,566 organ donors have given more than 13,000 Australians a second chance at life through organ transplants.