HIV-Positive Donor Transplants Soon Underway

John Hopkins University set to perform HIV-positive kidney and liver transplants


Those living with HIV could soon receive organ donations from others with the disease.

Doctors at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md, will soon begin the first kidney and liver transplants between HIV-positive patients in America. Not only does this enable HIV-positive patients to donate organs, but it could mean less time on the waitlist for organ donations overall, the New York Times reports.

"That'd be the greatest increase in organ transplantation that we've seen in the past decade," Dr. Dorry Segev, an associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, told the Times.

HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) harms the body's immune system, which fights off diseases, by attacking the body's CD4 cells. When the body runs low on CD4 cells, a person can be more susceptible to infections and cancers. HIV is usually transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected person or through needles.

If left untreated HIV leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which usually leads to death within a three-year period. Those who treat their HIV can live as long as those without the virus, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

“Nobody would consider transplanting an HIV-positive recipient because everyone knew their life span was short,” Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer for the United Network for Organ Sharing said to the Times. "The notion that HIV-positive recipients could be transplanted arose as a result of their extended life spans.”

HIV-positive transplants were outlawed until 2013, when President Obama signed the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, which he said could shorten wait times for those waiting for organs. The current list consists of about 121,000 people, according to the HHS.

"With these transplants, about 500 to 600 organ donations from HIV patients could save 1,000 people a year," Dr. Segev told the Times.

HIV-positive patients can receive HIV-negative organs, however, those without the disease cannot receive HIV-positive organs, the Times reports.

It is still undetermined whether HIV-positive people who are alive can donate their organs, the Times reports. Therefore, John Hopkins will begin its surgeries on organs donated by those deceased.

“People want to leave a living legacy; they want to help," Dr. Segev told the Times, "And to be stigmatized and told, ‘You can’t help because you’re HIV-positive’ can be devastating. This removes yet another stigma associated with HIV.”