Cyprus has a very low number of organ donors in relation to other EU countries, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said last week during a visit to the transplant clinic at Nicosia General hospital with his Spanish counterpart Carolina Darias.

Since the clinic started operating in 2011, only 253 transplants have taken place in Cyprus, 173 from live donors and 80 from deceased registered organ donors. This averages out at approximately 23 a year.

The aim is to increase this number even more by drawing on the help of countries that are pioneers in this area, such as Spain. Spain is possibly the best country in the world in terms of donor rates, he said.

Darias said that in her country the 2021 rate was 40.2 donors per million people, which is one of the highest rates in Europe.

Some might say this is because Spain has a policy of everyone being considered a donor unless they specifically opt-out but this does not account for the whole picture. Spain operates what is called a ‘soft’ opt-out policy, meaning the family of a deceased person is consulted and their wishes are respected.

Akel tabled a proposal in 2017 suggesting Cyprus change the law to make everyone over 18 an organ donor unless they opted out. At the time, MPs were told there were less than 2,000 people on the donor register and Cyprus had only six donors per million.

An ‘opt-out’ system might seem to be the solution but studies have shown that, the ‘opt-out’ system in Spain only marginally surpasses the ‘opt-in’ system that most countries follow. Therefore, it seems that Spanish people are just generally more aware of the importance of organ donation and when a loved one dies, relatives are more inclined to give their consent.

A survey done by researchers at Frederick University published in November 2020 found that Cypriot participants demonstrated limited awareness regarding the organ donation system in Cyprus. Furthermore, a significant percentage stated that they lacked a source for obtaining related information.

There is a system in Cyprus – and a form online – allowing people to opt-in or opt-out but organ donation is a topic that gets little coverage on a regular basis either by the health ministry or the media. Maybe once a year there might be a mention of it as part of some random campaign.

Also, the church – the Orthodox religion does not have issues with organ donation – could get involved. According to the Frederick survey, 45 per cent of those polled seemed not to know the church’s position, while another small percentage reflected a belief that the church forbids organ donation. People should be set straight on this.

That there have been transplants from only 80 deceased registered organ donors since 2011 is quite damning considering that thousands of people die every year – Covid aside. The health ministry is constantly bombarding us with ways to save our lives from Covid and monkeypox and iffy foodstuffs on the market but do not put near as much effort into increasing organ donation.