Organ transplantation in the Czech Republic from 1966 to the present

Medical Specialists from all over Europe descended on Prague's Congress Centre in Vysehrad this week. The occasion was a congress of ESOT, the European Society for Organ Transplantation. The location of the congress in Prague recognises the large contribution of Czech doctors to the advancement of transplant medicine both at home and abroad. Joshua Singer looks at the situation of Czech transplant medicine today.

The Czech Transplant Society has been a member of ESOT since the 1990s. The society acts as a platform for the exchange of research and knowledge, to which Czech scientists greatly contribute: there are currently at least seven centres for the application and research into transplant medicine throughout the country. Stefan Vitko is President of the Czech Transplant Society; he has earned a number of awards for his work in promoting organ donation internationally. I asked him how transplant medicine has changed in the Czech Republic over the past decades.

"Organ transplantation as a medical specialty was set up in the country in 1966. We did our first kidney transplantation then and during that time organ transplantation was a kind of mirror of the socialistic healthcare, so it was quite supported. But after the Iron Curtain fell we were challenged with new things, and the main thing was to increase the availability of organ transplants for everybody. Before it was something like exclusive medicine for a limited number of peoples, so what we did after 1989, was to focus on increased organ donations."

The drive to increase the number of donated organs focused on so called 'cadaveric' donors, patients who consent to donate their organs after death. The result was a doubling in the number of such donors from 1992 to 1994, and these kinds of donations have remained consistently high. So does this demonstrate a generally positive attitude towards organ donation among the Czech public today? Stefan Vitko again:

"The attitude of the Czech population is quite good but you know in the country here, in Austria in some other countries we apply the so called law of presumed consent so that means everybody who is not objecting during his life to organ donation could be organ donor, so in these special circumstances we have similar organ donation to every western country."

It isn't just organ donation the country's scientist are focusing on. A team at Prague's IKEM Transplant Centre is preparing for the country's first small intestine transplant, continuing the important contribution of Czech medics in this field.