New Kidney Transplant Policy Leads to More Black Transplants

The results of a study show that a little change in policy goes a long way for those in need of a kidney.

Posted: 11/07/2011 01:45 PM EST

A critical change in the way kidney donations are matched to needy recipients has resulted in more Blacks receiving the life-saving kidneys they need, says a new study.


Over 10 years ago, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) chose to reverse its policy of matching kidney recipients to deceased donor kidneys through the use of a biological indicator that is specific to race. Under the previous scheme, Black recipients would only be eligible to receive kidneys from other Black people, and given that there are generally less Black kidney donors, a wide disparity prevailed between Black and white transplants.


According to the study, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, before the policy change, African-Americans were 37 percent less likely to receive a deceased donor kidney than their white counterparts but, after the change in policy, African-Americans were only 23 percent less likely to receive a deceased donor kidney than whites. 


Experts say that although the effects of this change have the potential to save many African-American lives, several challenges must be solved before the racial disparity in kidney donations can become a thing of the past. According to Dr. Dorry Segev, the study’s senior author, changing ideas about kidney transplants and the treatment process may help African-Americans close the racial gap.


“For example, a patient may be reluctant to accept certain organ offers, or there may be geographic disparities involved,” Segev said. “ ... If a patient or his physician feels that he will do just fine on dialysis, he will be more reluctant to accept the up-front risk of the transplant. Studies have found that while this is true in older patients, it is actually the opposite in younger ones. Younger African-Americans do far worse on dialysis than their caucasian counterparts.”


According to the National Kidney Foundation, nearly 90,000 Americans are currently awaiting life-saving kidney transplants. Click here to find out what you can do to help.

(Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)