#HEALTH: Tackling Malaysia's critical organ donor shortage

THE shortage of organ donors in Malaysia puts those on the waiting list for transplants at increased risk of mortality.

Currently, there are 9,608 transplant patients waiting for lifesaving procedures, with the highest demand for kidney transplants, both for adults and paediatric cases according to data from the Malaysian Society of Transplantation (MST).

MST vice president and Hospital Kuala Lumpur transplant nephrologist Dr Mohamad Zaimi Abdul Wahab says for patients with end-stage organ failure, the consequences of not receiving a transplant can be severe, potentially leading to worsening health, decreased quality of life, and increased risk of mortality over time.

He adds that there are approximately 382,020 individuals pledged as organ donors in Malaysia. The majority of these donors come from the 20 to 39 age group.

Despite efforts to increase awareness, misconceptions about organ donation persist, fueled by cultural and religious beliefs.

Socioeconomic factors also play a role as many Malaysians are unaware of the benefits of organ donation or lack access to information.

Unlike some countries, Malaysia does not practise the opt-out system for organ donation.

In the opt-out system, practised in countries such as Spain, Austria and Belgium, every individual is presumed to be an organ donor unless they specifically state otherwise or register their refusal.

Malaysia practises the opt-in system where only those registered as organ donors are recognised as donors and consent is obtained from next-of-kin before organs can be harvested for use in transplants.

"While an opt-out system could potentially increase the number of available organs for transplantation, it's important to consider the cultural context of Malaysia. Family decision-making plays a significant role, and there may be strong cultural beliefs surrounding death and bodily integrity that could impact acceptance of an opt-out system," says Dr Mohamad Zaimi.

Living donors are another option for those on the waiting list. In Malaysia, the Ministry of Health allows living organ donation only between close blood relatives.

Dr Mohamad Zaimi says this includes an identical twin, first degree or second degree relative or legal spouse.

"If you wish to donate your organ to someone who is not genetically related to you or is a distant relative (third degree relative and beyond), you will need to be evaluated by an independent committee appointed by the Ministry of Health. Following this evaluation, permission may or may not be granted."

Living donors also need to be in good overall physical and mental health. Certain medical conditions like diabetes mellitus, cancer, HIV infection, hepatitis, and organ diseases will preclude you from becoming a donor.

Dr Mohamad Zaimi says in 2023, approximately 247 kidney transplants were performed of which 166 were from living donors and 81 from deceased donors.


The number of patients currently on the waiting list for organ transplants include:

Kidney Transplant

*9,150 adults

*426 paediatric patients

Liver Transplant

*4 adults

*9 paediatric patients

Heart/Lung Transplant

*13 patients awaiting heart transplants

*1 patient awaiting lung transplant

*5 patients awaiting heart-lung transplants

Source: MST


IN Malaysia, deceased donors fall into two categories - brain death and cardiac death.

Individuals confirmed to have suffered brain death are able to donate all types of organs and tissues. Those who fall under the cardiac death category can only donate tissues (including cornea, heart valves, bones and skin).

Types of Organs/Tissue Which Can Be Donated








*Heart valve



Source: National Transplant Resource Centre


TO address the critical shortage of organ donors in Malaysia, the Malaysian Society of Transplantation, in collaboration with the National Transplant Resource Centre and the Ministry of Higher Education, have launched Varsity P.U.L.S.E (Pledge for the Urgent Life Saving Efforts).

The initiative, which kicked off on Feb 14, will continue till May 9.

The primary objective of Varsity P.U.L.S.E is threefold:

*Increase awareness of organ donation among the younger generation in Malaysia.

*Dispel prevalent misconceptions surrounding organ donation.

*Boost the number of organ donor pledges.

Varsity P.U.L.S.E aims to foster a culture of awareness, understanding, and compassion among youth, inspiring them to make a difference by pledging to donate their organs.

The campaign comes at a time when pledging as an organ donor has never been easier, thanks to the integration of donor registration into the MySejahtera app, facilitating seamless participation for Malaysians across the country.

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