There has been a public outcry in Uganda over the trade in organs and tissues derived from unwilling donors. In 2021, a story broke out exposing some Ugandan doctors under probe connection with human organ-trafficking ring. It was alleged that the said doctors were illegally extracting body organs from patients before selling them to their local collaborators who also in turn sell them on the global black market. Others are accused of making referrals to patients in hospitals abroad but only to have their organs harvested when they reach there. Most sought after organs include heart, kidney and liver. There are also reports that some of the implicated medics have been carrying out dozens of illegal transplants in some hospitals secretly in hospitals and Clinics. It is reported that most victims in Uganda are trafficked abroad with good job promises, better health care only to have their organs extracted by coercion.
Objectives of the bill
Due to the underlying events, in 2021 the parliament sat and tabled the Uganda Human Organ Donation and Transplant Bill to establish a legal framework for the regulation of organ, cell and tissue donation and transplant in Uganda. It is imperative to note that Uganda does not have any law governing human organ donation and transplant which is increasingly becoming an area of health care used to cure non communicable diseases that arising rapidly. Due to the vacuum in the law, there has been concern about the increase in the illicit trade in and trafficking of human organs, cells and tissue.
The Minister of Health Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng laid out the objectives in the Bill on how to deal with the existing defects, some of which include;
- To establish the Uganda Organ and Transplant Council to oversee and regulate organ cell and tissue donation and transplantation in Uganda;
- To designate Mulago National Referral Hospital as the pioneering transplant center prescribe a criteria to be followed when designating a hospital as an organ, tissue or cell donation and transplant center;
- To establish policies and procedures for designated transplant centers and approved banks, including ethical standards and educational services to the public;
- To establish standards for storage of harvested organs, tissues and cells;
- To create a database of information of donors and recipients to be retained by the transplant centers, hospitals and health facilities and establish procedures for the transplantation of organs and tissue from living donors including due diligence;
- To prescribe the appropriate consent to be given by donors and prescribe the requirements to be fulfilled before carrying out a post mortem examination of a confirmed brain-dead donor;
- To prescribe offences and penalties related to issues of organ and tissue donation and transplantation;
Key Highlights of the Bill.
- The Bill provides for the role of the Minister to work with the council to promote, support and approve programmes of human organs cells and tissue for donation or transplantation. The Minister may also provide assistance and support to any person providing or proposing to provide a service relating to human organ cell or tissue donation or transplantation.
- The Bill establishes the Uganda organ Donation and Transplant Council, a body corporate to oversee and regulate organ-cell and tissue donation and transplantation in Uganda. It is to be consisted of nine technical members with high moral character and integrity to be appointed by the minister. Some of the functions of the council include; to investigate any complaint of breach of any of the provisions of this Act, ensure safety and quality of processes of acquisition, donation and transplantation of organs, tissues and cells, to monitor and audit the results of donation and transplantation procedures and also promote the education of health professionals and the general public on human organ, cell and tissue donation and transplantation.
- The Bill provides for Mulago National Referral Hospital to be considered as the designated pioneer Transplant center but also allows other hospitals who also wish to be designated transplant centers opportunity to apply to the Council in the manner prescribed by the Minister. It sets out some of the key qualifications of a designated Transplant Centre to have Intensive Care Unit and High Dependent Unit beds dedicated to the transplant programme connected to the theatre by a sterile corridor or interconnectivity with dialysis capability, specialized medical professionals, including a transplant surgeon, physician, anesthesiologist, intensivist and transplant nurse qualified and experienced in the type of organ, tissue or cells to be harvested and the transplant activities to be carried out and a fully-fledged specialized organ support unit for organ, tissue or cell donation or transplant and others.
- The bill also emphasizes the importance of approval in the Organ Cell and Tissue Banks in Uganda. It provides for the policies and procedures of approval with the National World bank to be accredited by the Council and Preservation and storage of the Organ. The Council is to also establish The Organ Donation and Transport Quality Control System to ensure equitable access to quality donation and transplantation services to donors and potential recipients.
- The importance of ethical standards and educational services of the public is laid out as a call on designated transplant centers to produce or have available literature and media items that provide education and awareness creation for donation of organs, tissues or cells.
- Bill also sets tough penalties for dealing in organs for commercial purposes
The said Bill was successfully passed into law in 2022 setting another milestone in the Uganda health sector. It is imperative to note that this Bill is a good step in the right direction for the governance of our country Uganda streamlining the operations of the laws in Uganda. Being that there was no existing law before this, it is a satisfactory law to curb all the defects and loopholes that have for long defiled the Organ Transplant health field.