Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Global kidney exchange (and pushback) in the American Journal of Transplantation

I've written earlier about the possibility of Global Kidney Exchange (GKE), in which foreign patient-donor pairs who cannot afford transplantation are invited to join American kidney exchange chains. The idea is that the cost of the foreign pair's surgeries and postoperative care can be paid for by the savings that result whenever an American is transplanted (because transplantation is so much cheaper than dialysis).

The March issue of the American Journal of Transplantation  contains a report of the first foreign pair, and the chain of exchanges that included them.

Curiously, the issue also contains an editorial that is profoundly ambivalent about GKE, in a way that makes clear that the issues of repugnance that surround organ donation, and incentives, and equity, and patients and donors from developing countries, are not vanishing in the face of the benefits that GKE provides to patient-donor pairs from developing countries.

Finally, for those in a hurry, here's a nice summary by Timothy Taylor on his blog the Conversable Economist: Global Kidney Exchange.

Here's our paper reporting the first global kidney exchange chain:

Kidney Exchange to Overcome Financial Barriers to Kidney Transplantation
by M. A. Rees, T. B. Dunn, C. S. Kuhr, C. L. Marsh, J. Rogers, S. E. Rees, A. Cicero, L. J. Reece, A. E. Roth, O. Ekwenna, D. E. Fumo, K. D. Krawiec, J. E. Kopke, S. Jain, M. Tan, S. R. Paloyo
American Journal of Transplantation, Volume 17, Issue 3 March 2017, Pages 782–790

Abstract: Organ shortage is the major limitation to kidney transplantation in the developed world. Conversely, millions of patients in the developing world with end-stage renal disease die because they cannot afford renal replacement therapy—even when willing living kidney donors exist. This juxtaposition between countries with funds but no available kidneys and those with available kidneys but no funds prompts us to propose an exchange program using each nation's unique assets. Our proposal leverages the cost savings achieved through earlier transplantation over dialysis to fund the cost of kidney exchange between developed-world patient–donor pairs with immunological barriers and developing-world patient–donor pairs with financial barriers. By making developed-world health care available to impoverished patients in the developing world, we replace unethical transplant tourism with global kidney exchange—a modality equally benefitting rich and poor. We report the 1-year experience of an initial Filipino pair, whose recipient was transplanted in the United states with an American donor's kidney at no cost to him. The Filipino donor donated to an American in the United States through a kidney exchange chain. Follow-up care and medications in the Philippines were supported by funds from the United States. We show that the logistical obstacles in this approach, although considerable, are surmountable.

Here's an illustration of the idea:

Figure 1

And here's the first chain, to date: the Filipino pair is pair 1 (the chain was begun by an American nondirected donor who donated to the Filipino patient, whose donor in turn continued the chain...).

And here's the accompanying editorial:
Walking a Tightrope or Blazing a Trail?
by A. C. Wiseman, J. S. Gill

Abstract: Engaging compatible kidney donor–recipient pairs from other countries for participation in a paired kidney exchange program in the United States poses a number of ethical challenges that deserve close scrutiny. Rees et al's article is on page 782.

Here's one sentence that illustrates the power of repugnance (it suggests that maybe the Filipino pair who joined the kidney exchange were really being exploited...):
"At a societal level, American patients received a disproportionate share of the societal benefit enabled by the participation of the compatible Filipino pair in KPE, which may not be adequately remedied by the payment for transplantation and posttransplant care."

Update: and here's our coauthor Kim Krawiec at the Faculty Lounge: GKE Debate in Current Issue of The American Journal of Transplantation

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