Organ Donation in India

Dr. Sumana Navin


Organ donation from deceased donors is gaining momentum in India and it is time to take this programme further to help thousands of patients with organ failure get a second chance at life.


The Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 heralded a significant change in the organ donation and transplantation scene in India. Many of the states of India adopted the Act over the next few years, but there was hardly any focused work done towards furthering the deceased organ donation programme. In a few states, likeminded medical professionals and philanthropists came together to take the initiative forward. Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were at the forefront in this with some hospitals and non-governmental organizations like MOHAN Foundation taking the lead in setting up an organ sharing network in the year 2000. As a result, retrieval of 616 organs and tissues were facilitated in these two states by MOHAN Foundation.


Tamil Nadu paves the way


In 2008, the Government of Tamil Nadu through a pioneering effort put together government orders laying down systems and procedures for deceased organ donation and transplantation in the state. These government orders also came at a time when the public was becoming more aware about organ donation.  The organ sharing registry developed by MOHAN Foundation was adopted by the state government to start the Tamil Nadu Network for Organ Sharing ( With an organ donation rate of 1.15 per million population, Tamil Nadu is now the leader in deceased organ donation in the country.


The Tamil Nadu model has been possible due to the coming together of both government and private hospitals, NGOs and the State Health department.


Organ donation in other States


It is heartening to see that many other states are following suit with robust deceased organ donation and transplantation programmes. As in Tamil Nadu, it involves public – private - NGO partnerships. Andhra Pradesh has the Jeevandan programme (, Karnataka has the Zonal Coordination Committee of Karnataka for Transplantation (, and Maharashtra has the Zonal Transplant Coordination Center in Mumbai ( and Nagpur. Gujarat has also been working consistently in this area. MOHAN Foundation has been spearheading efforts in Delhi - NCR and Chandigarh and the results are encouraging. The most recent initiative has been taken by the Kerala government in setting up “Mrithasanjeevani” and the Kerala Network for Organ Sharing ( in 2012. 



Deceased Donation Programme Location in India


In fact, the year 2012 has been the best yet for deceased organ donation in India. A total of 530 organs were retrieved from 196 multi-organ donors in 2012 resulting in a national organ donation rate of 0.16 per million population (Table 1).

Table 1 - Deceased Organ Donation in India - 2012


No. of Deceased Donors

Total no. of organs


Organ Donation Rate per Million Population

Tamil Nadu
















Andhra Pradesh




















Source: Indian Transplant News Letter (Vol 2 Issue No. 37)


The MOHAN Foundation Experience

Over the past 15 years, MOHAN Foundation has facilitated the retrieval of 3200 organs and tissues. During this time, we have encountered some interesting misconceptions that the public has about the programme -


1.      People are generally unwilling to donate the organ(s) of a brain dead relative.


This is a huge misconception in our country that people are unwilling to donate.   In India, every day we have almost 60 families donating the eyes of their loved ones. Also, periodically many whole body donations are taking place to the Anatomy department for research.


We have seen that when a trained counsellor talks to the relatives of a brain dead patient and explains the situation, almost 65% will agree to donate.  This is the figure in many states of the country be it Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala or Delhi.


Studies conducted both in corporate hospitals and government hospitals show the figures to be similar.  Also, there has been no correlation between people giving consent and their economic class or level of literacy.  If they are counselled, explained about the irreversibility of brain death, and given time to decide, many will say yes to donation.


The problem is not that people do not want to donate. The real problem is that there are no mechanisms in our hospitals to identify and certify brain death. Also, often, no one informs the relatives of a brain dead person that they have the option to save lives by donating the organs of their loved one.


2.      There are not many patients who are diagnosed with brain death.


This is not true.


While there are no actual figures available, guesstimates are that it is close to 100,000 a year and that at any given time every major city has 8 to 10 brain deaths in various ICUs of the city.  


But what we do know is that 4% - 6 % of all hospital deaths in any major hospital are due to brain death. In India, Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) amount to approximately 1,40,000 deaths a year out of which almost 67% sustain severe head injury resulting in brain death (as per a study conducted by AIIMS, Delhi). This means that there are almost 93,000 persons who become brain dead, and are therefore potential organ donors.


Moving ahead


The way forward is to develop infrastructure in government hospitals, to conduct Continuing Medical Education (CME) programmes on organ donation and transplantation for medical and paramedical personnel, and to train counsellors/transplant coordinators. It is also important for each hospital and region to evolve its own ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ on how to identify, certify and maintain brain dead donors and how to tackle medico-legal cases that constitute the bulk of donations in India.


And finally, building positive public will about organ donation is paramount and the role of the media is crucial in this.

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