New Delhi: The coronavirus pandemic has drastically reduced the number of organ transplant procedures as well as donations. According to doctors, the fear of contracting the virus and difficulty in procuring the organs, have forced patients to wait longer to get their surgeries done. It is noteworthy that in India there is a lack of awareness and pre-existing myths about organ donations. For any patient in a need of transplant surgery, the biggest challenge is getting a matching donor. However, the pandemic has made it even more difficult. Meanwhile, as Covid cases are rising again, doctors and health experts are worried that the situation might get worse.

Medical tourism in India, which has been growing in the past few years, has also been affected due to lockdowns and the pandemic. Dr Neerav Goyal, Senior Consultant, Liver Transplant, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, told The Sunday Guardian: “The restrictions on travel globally have made it difficult for international patients in need of transplant procedures to reach India (as India has great healthcare facilities and encourages medical tourism). Moreover, the fear of catching the virus and apprehension of getting surgery done during the pandemic, have caused many existing patients to rely only on medication. It has further deteriorated their condition and made their existing problems more complex.”

However, with the removal of lockdowns and travel restrictions across borders globally, the inflow is picking up gradually especially in a number of critical cases like organ transplants and other severe cases, as per reports.

According to doctors, all solid transplant procedures can be performed if the patient has tested Covid negative. “Lung transplant procedures are the only to be affected due to Covid, as Covid is primarily a respiratory illness that impacts the lungs,” Dr Goyal said.

Doctors and hospitals are taking several steps to protect both patients and donors from contracting the virus. The patient and donor should be quarantined for 14 days before and after the surgeries, they need to follow all Covid-19 protocols and maintain hand and respiratory hygiene. “It is evident that we have to adopt a new normal of living with the pandemic hence, doctors advice patients not to delay their regular health checkups. Depending on the severity of organ failure, patients may stand greater chances of dying with the existing disease than contracting the virus. Also, doctors are counseling patients to do away with myths. As with the passing year, healthcare systems are better ready and equipped to handle such transplant surgeries and maintain the stipulated guidelines and precautions. For ensuring safe surgery, doctors order RT-PCR and antibody tests both for the patient and donor. It helps in determining the possibilities of safe transplant procedures. Doctors also order for chest X-rays to check on the lines of asymptomatic Covid-19,” Dr Goyal said. To ensure a Covid-free set-up, the hospitals have devoted sections and buildings for performing safe surgeries and providing absolute care under stipulated precautions, for conducting transplant surgeries amid the pandemic. The hospitals also don’t accept organs from deceased donors who tested positive for Covid-19. The hospitals are also testing staff and doctors who are performing the surgeries.