The waiting list for organ transplants grew five times faster than the number of organ transplants during the past decade and now tops 75,000 Americans, according to a report released earlier this month by the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Fewer than 22,000 transplants took place in 1999, up from 15,000 in 1990, and an average of 15 people in the U.S. die every day waiting for an organ transplant. Less than a third of those on the waiting list are likely to receive a transplant this year.
"The field of transplantation is almost a victim of its own success," UNOS spokeswoman Anne Paschke said.
Medical advances and the growth of hospital transplant programs have made transplantation a safer and more accepted treatment for organ failure, yet transplantation is throttled by a limited supply of organs.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said by May he would develop plans for a new national effort to encourage organ donation.
"We certainly don't see an end in the rise for the demand for organ transplantation," Paschke said.
The number of organ transplant centers increased to 261 in 2000 from 249 in 1990. The number of organ-specific transplant programs-of which some centers may have several-grew to 868 in 2000 from 695 in 1990.
The increase in the number of living donor organ transplants, most applicable in liver and kidney transplantation, was a bright spot in the transplantation field during the 1990s. Although the number of transplants using organs from cadavers increased 35% during the decade, the number of transplants using organs from living donors grew 115%. In 1999, living donors were involved in 21% of all transplants, compared with just 14% in 1990.
"It really is a remarkable story; it is just not sufficient," said William Payne, M.D., director of the liver transplant program at Fairview-University Medical Center, Minneapolis, and the immediate past president of UNOS.