Canadians requiring life-saving organ transplants are being forced to wait longer as the number of donors has plummeted since the pandemic began.

Dr. Sam Shemie, a medical adviser on organ donations for Canadian Blood Services, told the Ottawa Citizen organ donations from living patients are down 30% from pre-pandemic levels.

“It means transplants are correspondingly down across the country,” he said.

 “There’s no question that what that translates into is a delay for patients on waiting lists getting organs in a timely way.”

Dr. Shemie explained that both organ donors and recipients need to recover in intensive care units (ICUs) after surgery. Since the pandemic began, fewer ICU beds are available as hospitals are treating coronavirus patients. 

People who die of COVID-19 in Canada are not eligible to be organ donors, though Canadian Blood Services has determined from research in other countries that the risk of spreading the virus through organ transplant is negligible. 

“The overwhelming observation has been that with the testing that we do of potential donors in the intensive care unit, there has not been one case of a transmission of COVID from a donor to a recipient,” Dr. Shemie said.

Due to the pandemic and lockdowns, fewer Canadians have been receiving surgeries, treatments and tests for deadly diseases. In the first months of the pandemic, the number of certain surgeries in Ontario dropped by over 40%.

Postponement or cancellation of surgeries has led to the deaths of dozens of people according to government estimates. 

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