What affects a countries total number of organ transplants?
Countries with high rates of organ transplants heavily invest in medical infrastructure, including purpose-built intensive care units, transplant coordinators and specialised training for doctors and nurses. In Spain, they have a central body responsible for coordinating the entire donation system, called The Organizacion Nacional de Trasplantes.4
Developed nations like Australia and the US have dedicated websites with free educational content and online registers. The US has organdonor.gov, while Australia has donatelife.gov.au. There’s also World Organ Donation Day, which occurs every year on August 13. Many countries run media campaigns to raise awareness and motivate people to donate organs after death.
It’s clear that some countries focus on treatment while others focus more on prevention. Japan ranks last for organ transplants out of the OECD; however, they rank first for life expectancy (84 years old).5 Japan is also one of the slimmest countries with only 4.3% of the adult population recorded as obese, compared to 36.2% of the US adult population.6
Cultural and religious beliefs
While no major religions explicitly ban organ donation, some are more open to it than others. For example, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus generally leave the decision to the individual while Shinto’s believe the dead body is impure and dangerous.7
Opt-in or opt-out system
Many countries have adopted the opt-out system for organ donations. Opt-out means that every person is an organ donor – by default – even if they’ve never registered as a donor. Studies have generally suggested higher organ donation and transplantation rates in countries with an opt-out system.8
N.B. Unfortunately, the majority of people who register for organ donation are ineligible. For instance, in the USA, only three in 1,000 people (0.03%) die in a manner that allows for organ donation.9 In Australia it’s also less than one per cent.10 The USA’s large of volume of donors means they still achieve a high amount of transplants per year.