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HEALTH

Organ donor numbers in Germany fall to lowest level in 20 years

The number of organ donors in Germany reached a new low in 2017, according to statistics released by the German Organ Transplantation Foundation (DSO).

Organ donor numbers in Germany fall to lowest level in 20 years
Workers in Hanover putting up a sign advertising organ donations. Photo: DPA

Last year there were only 797 organ donations, 60 fewer than the previous year and the lowest number in the past 20 years.

Compared to other European countries, Germany is in a very poor position, the foundation said.

“Unfortunately, for the first time we will slip below the mark of ten organ donors per one million inhabitants. In 2017 the figure was 9.7,” said Axel Rahmel, director of the DSO.

This has never before happened in the foundation’s history, he added, describing Germany trailing “behind almost all the other western European countries” as a “dramatic development.”

But Rahmel attributes the decline in donations less to the unwillingness of potential donors and more to the consolidation of services in hospitals. He calls for the improvement in the organization of the approximately 1,250 organ donation clinics in Germany.

Last year in Bavaria, the number of organ donors rose by 18 percent – the highest figure in all of Germany’s states. Meanwhile other states such as Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland also registered an increase in the number of donors last year, though the nationwide trend generally declined.

A German organ donor card. Photo: DPA

Spain is the world leader in organ donation with an annual number of 46.9 donors per one million inhabitants. But Spain differs from Germany in that people who don’t wish to have their organs donated after death have to explicitly document it. Residents in Germany on the other hand have to document their willingness to donate their organs by filling out a donor card or a form.

Belgium and Croatia are also far ahead of the Bundesrepublik with more than 30 organ donors per million inhabitants, reports Süddeutsche Zeitung.

“Although more than €100 million were spent on advertising and organization last year, organ donation is at a standstill, ” said Eugen Brysch, head of the German Foundation for Patient Protection (DSP).

According to Brysch, urgent action is needed as 10,000 seriously ill patients are currently on an organ donor waiting list.

The only way to restore the trust of the population and hospital physicians is for the system to be in the hands of the state, he said.

An organ donation scandal that rocked the country several years ago could be a major reason behind the low number of donors. In 2012, a doctor in Göttingen, Lower Saxony was investigated for falsifying medical documents to speed up the process for his patients who needed organ transplants. Prosecutors argued that his actions may have even cost the lives of others who needed the transplants more urgently.

He was accused of attempted manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, but it could not be proved who exactly had died as a result of the data manipulation. Ultimately he was acquitted, but the case also led to further discoveries of other doctors describing their patients as more severely ill than they were, or changing other health details, to move them up the waiting list.

Since then the number of organ donations has dropped, as people have felt discouraged to participate, said Health Minister Hermann Gröhe in 2016.

“The current numbers show that the trust that was lost can only be won back slowly.”

More than two-thirds (69 percent) of Germans say that they would personally donate an organ, according to Gröhe. And yet just one third (32 percent) of Germans have an organ donor card.

HEALTH

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination. 

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