Croatia assists Serbia with organ transplant surgeries


With a strong infrastructure and educational initiatives, Croatia has become a regional leader in organ transplants.

By Kruno Kartus and Bojana Milanovic for Southeast European Times in Osijek and Belgrade -- 23/07/13


Croatia is helping other countries in the region to perform more organ transplants. [AFP]

As a leader in organ transplant procedures and surgeries, Croatia is providing both doctors and training to help its Southeast European neighbours perform more life-saving operations.

Among the beneficiaries of Croatia's assistance is Serbia, which has insufficient space and personnel to accommodate the number of transplant surgeries that are needed in the country. Serbian transplant waiting lists are growing, but partnering with doctors from Croatia is producing results.

A team of Croatian doctors worked with their Serbian colleagues to perform two recent liver transplants at the Clinical Centre of Serbia in Belgrade. One of the patients was a 28-year-old woman who suffered from auto-immune liver cirrhosis and had been waiting for a new organ for 10 years.

Zlaitbor Loncar, director of the Clinical Centre of Serbia, told SETimes that co-operation with Croatian doctors is invaluable.

"We've received support from our health ministries and the medical teams of Serbia and Croatia are co-operating excellently, to the benefit of the patients. There is no more time, the waiting lists will get longer and the number of patients in Serbia waiting for organ transplants as their only hope will only increase," Loncar said.

Serbian Health Minister Slavica Djukic Dejanovic and her Croatian counterpart, Rajko Ostojic, recently signed a memorandum of co-operation that promotes the professional advancement of healthcare workers, organ transplantation and programmes aimed at the prevention and early detection of cancer.

"Co-operation in the healthcare system will be a bridge to further bettering relations between Croatia and Serbia," Dejanovic said, telling Serbian physicians that "you have much to learn from your Croatian colleagues in the field of transplantation, because Croatia is the country with the best results in the world in that field."

"We need to exchange experiences at the state level in many areas, from preventive programmes, through the organisation of financial systems in health care, to the organisation of the segments where one of the sides boasts far better results," Dejanovic said.

Ostojic also said there are numerous windows for co-operation between the two countries, from preventive programmes to clinical practice and financing.

"All governments around the world are facing the same problem, the matter of financial sustainability, which we've discussed and for which we are at your disposal, not only in the field of organ transplantation," Ostojic said.

In 2011, the World Health Organisation named Croatia the regional centre for organ donations and transplants for the 10-nation Southeast Europe Health Network.

Croatia is one of eight nations that are part of Eurotransplant, a non-profit organisation that facilitates the cross-border exchange of deceased donor organs. According to the Croatian Ministry of Health, 400 transplants were performed in the country last year, including 387 from deceased donors.

Croatian doctors performed 232 kidney transplants from deceased donors, a procedure regarded as a key indicator of health care quality. The World Health Organisation considers transplantation the best treatment for kidney disease in terms of both quality of life and cost effectiveness. Croatia's rate of kidney transplants was 51.8 per 1 million people, the highest rate in the world in 2012.

Serbia had 47 kidney transplants last year. The country has 70 patients on a waiting list for liver transplants. In Croatia, there were 120 liver transplants last year.

Croatia has 35 organ donors per 1 million inhabitants, while Serbia has just four donors per million. Health officials estimate that Serbia could eliminate its organ transplant waiting lists if it had 10 donors per million.

Croatia's healthcare system has placed an emphasis on educating the public and medical professionals about organ donation. The Croatia Donor Network promotes post-mortem organ donation for transplantation, the education of health professionals and hospital staff on the treatment of donor organs and transplant co-ordinator education.

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Dr. Nikola Zgrablic, president of the Croatia Donor Network, told SETimes the country is committed to continuous co-operation in support of its neighbours in Southeast Europe. He said doctors from Zagreb University Hospital Centre performed the first kidney transplant in Montenegro last year.

"Croatia provides support and technical assistance through training and exchange of experts in the health institutions in order to acquire practical experience in donor and transplant programmes through practical workshops, study tours, expert missions and conferences to other countries in Southeastern Europe," Zgrablic said.

He added that the keys to the success of Croatia's transplantation system are quality infrastructure, high-quality professionals and public awareness and purpose of organ donation. Since 1996, the Croatia Donor Network has distributed 1 million donor cards, by which citizens express their willingness to donate organs after death, Zgrablic said.

How would an increase in regional, medical co-operation benefit your country? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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