Why does Spain lead the world in organ transplants?

Spain's generous donors

Organ transplants. Credit: vchal/Shutterstock.com

Spain, renowned for its remarkable organ transplant achievements, has once again surpassed all expectations in 2023, and is the only country in the world to have transplanted all possible organs.

Beyond the staggering statistics supplied by Spain’s National Transplant Organization, Minister Monica Garcia highlighted the liberating effect on patients.

‘We are talking about a profound transformation in people’s lives,’ she said, highlighting procedures that allow patients to discard oxygen tanks, stop dialysis, and regain some normality in their lives.

Record-breaking numbers

In 2023, Spain recorded an impressive 5,861 transplants, averaging 16 daily, thanks to the selflessness of 2,781 donors, equating to eight donors each day.

This achievement marks Spain’s uninterrupted international leadership in organ transplantation for an astounding 32 years.

Notably, these figures also surpass pre-pandemic levels, signifying a triumphant resurgence in organ transplantation.

Spain’s astonishing success

Spain’s success in organ transplantation is attributed to its intricately woven model that engages numerous healthcare professionals in the process.

Collaboration between intensivists and emergency physicians is pivotal, given that only 1 to 2 per cent of critically ill patients qualify as donors.

Additionally, Spain’s model reflects solidarity, with 23 per cent of transplants performed in a different region from the donor’s origin.

However, altruism plays a pivotal role, with 82 per cent of families consenting to organ donation from deceased relatives.

Spain’s ground-breaking approach to donation in asystole (when the heart ceases to beat) accounts for 45 per cent of all donations.

This method has evolved into multi-organ transplantation, thanks to the widespread adoption of complex organ preservation techniques in Spanish hospitals.

Changing demographics of donors

In 2023, traffic accidents accounted for only 4.7 per cent of organ donors in Spain, with cardiovascular accidents becoming the primary cause of donor fatalities.

Surprisingly, over half of the donors were over 60 years old, with 30 per cent over the age of 70, and 5 per cent exceeding 80. Notably, the oldest donor in 2023 was an impressive 92 years old.

Leading in organ types

Spain’s prowess in transplantation extends to various organ types, with kidney transplants leading the way, totaling 3,688 procedures in 2023, an 8 per cent increase from the previous year.

Remarkably, 12 per cent of kidney transplants involved living donors, a growing trend with a 24 per cent rise in 2023.

Following kidney transplants, liver transplants numbered 1,262. The year also saw 479 lung transplants, 325 heart transplants, 100 pancreatic transplants, and 7 intestinal transplants. Spain remains the only country globally to have transplanted all possible organs.

Urgent cases and pediatric transplants

2023 witnessed 314 transplants performed in high-priority, life-threatening situations, and 190 pediatric transplants.

Despite Spain’s record-breaking figures, the waiting list remains a challenge, with 4,794 patients currently in need, including 75 children. This situation underscores the critical need for more organ donors.

Samaritan donors and euthanasia

Spain’s organ donation landscape also features unique aspects. Samaritan donors, who selflessly donate a kidney to a stranger in need, have increased, with seven such donations in 2023.

Additionally, Spain and Italy achieved international success with the second international organ transplant crossover involving three couples.

Another notable development is the 90 donors who choose to donate their organs before undergoing euthanasia, with 249 patients benefiting since the law’s implementation.

Organ donation figures vary widely among Spain’s autonomous communities. Three regions, Cantabria, Navarra, and Murcia, surpass 70 donors per million population, exceeding the national average of 48.9.

Spain’s unparalleled success in organ transplantation continues to inspire the world, offering hope and renewed life to countless individuals in need.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.