Improved surgical healthcare as Human Organ and Tissue Transplant Bill passed

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The Human Organ and Tissue Transplant Bill 2021 was passed in the National Assembly on Monday. The Bill provides the legal framework for the removal of human organs, tissues, cells and biofluids for transplantation and blood transfusion.

The Bill states that such transplantations are to be used in regenerative medicine including cell therapy, gene therapy and stem cell therapy, and other therapeutic purposes; for medical education and for scientific research purposes including stem cell research, cell explant research and cell line research and for connected matters.

Minister of Health Dr Frank Anthony told the National Assembly that doctors in Guyana have been transplanting solid organs since 2008, but without any legal governance structure.

“While we have transfused blood for several decades and we have been transplanting kidneys since 2008 and we have been transplanting corneas since 2014, there has been no legal framework in place to regulate the donation of blood, organs, cells or tissues. This legislation is now going to put that framework in place so that this can be done ethically and safely and in keeping with the global best practices.”

Dr Anthony, who labelled the Bill as one of the most advanced pieces of legislation in regenerative tissues and human organs, tissues, cells transplantation in the region, posited that it is in keeping with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guiding principles on human organ transplantations.

Now that the Bill has been passed, a National Human Organ and Tissue Transplant Agency must be established.

This agency which will be responsible for the management of the removal, donation and transfer of human organs to patients in need.

It will also coordinate with hospitals permitted to conduct the surgeries, to establish the operating procedures.

The agency will be saddled with the task of public education campaigns, related to consent for the donation and use of organs.

The agency will be headed by a chairperson appointed by the Minister of Health and will include the Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chairperson of the Medical Council.

Added to that, there will also be the creation of a National Blood Transfusion Services Department.

“They will be responsible for the establishment of blood banks, manufacturing various blood products for blood transfusion and managing a voluntary donation system and having a robust approach to prevent transfusion transmitted infections,” the Minister noted.

Also, as Guyana has been conducting cornea transplants at both public and private hospitals, the Bill paves the way for the establishment of a local eye bank that will ease the coordination of donation of the vital organ.

“This local Eye Bank would recover and store ocular tissue from donors for transplant to eligible recipients. This measure will assist hundreds of persons in regaining their sight at very affordable costs.”

The Bill will now allow scientists, researchers and clinicians to start researching and exploiting the benefits of regenerative medicine, Dr Anthony told the National Assembly.

“When this is achieved Mr Speaker, no immunosuppression would be needed, no waiting lists would be necessary, no preservation of organs would be required, as these organs tissue ourselves would be manufactured on demand, and implanted immediately.”

During the debate, there were little objections from the main Parliamentary Opposition.

Meanwhile, support was given by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall.

Minister Nandlall noted that, contrary to the rhetoric of the opposition, the Bill has a series of protective mechanisms.

“The same thing they have done with the NRF Bill, although as I’ve said repeatedly, that Bill is about 80 per cent their Bill, yet it’s a recipe for corruption and for thieving of resources. That is what they do, Mr. Speaker, they come here, they don’t read the bill. I don’t know if they read it, they don’t have understanding, they don’t understand what they read. But they gave their mouth a lot of liberty and contribute to an avalanche of misinformation,” Minister Nandlall stated.

The AG also noted that that the modern and comprehensive bill will remain fluid and will be amended as newer technology is available.

Director-General of the Ministry of Health, Dr Vishwa Mahadeo, affirmed that the Bill is multifaceted as it seeks to penalise persons who attempt to sell organs.

He, too, believes the objections made by the opposition are spurious.

“This Bill includes all that needs to be done including penalties, Mr. Speaker, including the deterrence to organ transplantation tourism, for example, including those who might want to go down the road of selling organs and so it has all of that encapsulated here Mr. Speaker, so I have no hesitation Mr. Speaker, in supporting. It says five years jail if you’re found guilty. Mr. Speaker, I have no hesitation in supporting this Bill.”

Opposition Member of Parliament, Lennox Shuman supported the Bill in its entirety, while urging that all services that come under its purview must be accessible to persons in the hinterland.