Following a two year pause due to COVID-19, cross-Tasman kidney exchanges are now back up and running between Australia and its neighbour, New Zealand.
The world-first Australian and New Zealand Paired Kidney Exchange (ANZKX) Program was established in 2019, merging the Australian and New Zealand kidney exchange programs to help increase transplantation numbers on both sides of the Tasman Sea.
In a nutshell, the ANZKX Program matches incompatible kidney donor and recipient pairs with other incompatible pairs across Australia and New Zealand. For example, a family member wishes to donate a kidney to another family member in need – but they are not a match for donation. This means they can be matched up with others to provide a much better outcome for all involved. Some exchanges can include multiple donor-recipient pairs.
When COVID entered the scene in 2020, cross-Tasman exchanges under the ANZKX Program were ruled out temporarily, but from 1 July 2022, the program was given the all-clear to resume.
ANZKX clinical director, Associate Professor Peter Hughes, says the program is vitally important because finding matches, especially for people waiting on the deceased organ donor list, could take years, which is time some people simply don’t have.
“We have seen lots of participants in the program who otherwise would not get a transplant get one, and do really well. Up to 30 per cent of kidney donations in Australia and New Zealand were from living donors, and about one in five were made possible through the ANZKX Program,” Dr Hughes said.
Prior to the countries’ borders closing, the program completed 39 transplants. These included four chains of donors and recipients that saw eight kidneys flown between the two countries.
More than three-quarters of the 1750 patients on Australia’s organ waiting list need a new kidney, and a further 13,000 people are on dialysis and may need a transplant at some point.