A team of scientists and surgeons has just gotten the go-ahead for a groundbreaking procedure: an organ transplant between an HIV-positive patient and an HIV-positive donor.

The newly-approved surgery is a result from a struck-down band that, until recently, barred people with HIV from becoming organ donors. The embargo, which went into effect in 1988 under the Reagan Administration, was repealed by President Barack Obama after the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act (HOPE Act) was passed in 2013, not only allowing for HIV donors and transplants, but for scientists to be able to study how to successfully complete one. 

According to an official statement released by Johns Hopkins, Dr. Dorry Segev, a JHU associate professor of surgery and one of the most vocal advocates for signing the HOPE Act into law, estimates that about 500 to 600 organs go to waste every year due to a given donor's HIV status — organs that, as per the statement and Segev — could save roughly 1,000 lives. With a transplant list that averages to around 122,222 names on the list on average, Segev pointed out to the New York Times in an interview the amount of wasted opportunities this creates, especially in the context of a life-or-death scenario for a patient in dire need of a transplant.

"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 told the NYT. "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." 

While the procedure might only last for a choice number of hours, the transplant has been two years in the making: after the HOPE Act became law, Segev and his team still needed that allotted time to research and prepare for a successful transplant — hence the large time gap between the institution of the HOPE Act and the as-of-yet-unscheduled surgery.

"Nobody would consider transplanting an HIV-positive recipient because everyone knew their life span was short," Dr. David Klassen, the United Network for Organ Sharing's chief medical officer, told the NYT. He also pointed to the correlation between the interest within the last few years of HIV-positive organ donation and the rising average lifespan of the domestic HIV-positive population, noting that "the notion that HIV-positive recipients could be transplanted arose as a result of their extended life spans." 

The U.S. is far from the first country to attempt an organ transplant from an HIV-positive donor: South Africa previously completed a successful kidney transplant between an HIV-positive donor and an HIV-positive transplantee.

"People want to leave a living legacy; they want to help," Segev added. "And to be stigmatized and told, 'You can't help because you're HIV-positive' can be devastating. This removes yet another stigma associated with HIV." 

"The idea that my organs could now benefit someone living with HIV? Heck yeah," said Michael Kaplan, president of AIDS United, a lobbying group.

Source: Johns Hopkins

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