"Despite the progress, Canada lags behind "top-tier" countries such as the U.S. and Spain, where deceased donation rates exceed 30 donors per million population. Canada's rate currently stands at 18.2 donors per million population, up from 14.1 for that measure in 2006.
Spain fostered a culture of donation over three decades and Canada is now embarking on creating one, said Dr. Peter Nickerson, vice-dean of research at the University of Manitoba and a medical adviser to CBS.
About 21 per cent of donations come after cardiac death, said Kimberly Young, director of donation and transplantation at CBS. Before those programs were implemented, most deceased organ donations occurred after catastrophic brain injury. Now organs can be donated after the heart stops.
Young also acknowledged the hundreds of Canadians who've chosen to become living donors, many without ever knowing the recipient.
The living donation rate hasn't increased in the past decade, Young said. One of the reasons it hasn't decreased, as in some countries, is due to the national paired kidney donation program. It pairs compatible donors, including those in different parts of the country. Doctors consider kidney donations the best treatment for end-stage kidney disease.
Lung transplants are in the top tier of comparable wealthy countries, thanks to pioneering research at lung retrieval centres such as Toronto General Hospital, Nickerson said. Likewise, liver donation rates are high. Heart access is relatively equal, he said.
There have also been significant improvements in access to transplants among those who have the hardest time finding a donor match because of a highly sensitive immune system. "