The All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) in Delhi may be soon performing lung transplants. This could be a boon for a city struggling with high levels of respiratory disease.
The premier medical facility has secured a license to perform the procedure and is in the process of shortlisting potential beneficiaries, with a view towards conducting the surgery as soon as next month. “We have the necessary infrastructure and trained manpower,” AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria was quoted as saying in The Times of India. “If a lung is available, the transplant will be carried out.”
A lung transplant is a last resort in the treatment of end-stage lung disease. The procedure is highly risky. There is a possibility that the transplanted organ could be rejected by the body’s immune system; a heightened risk of infections; and complications rangings from effects on the kidneys to the body’s nervous system.
Lung transplants, nonetheless, can give recipients a new lease of life after potentially years of suffering with a debilitating disease. Since the early 1990s, more than 25,000 lung transplants have been carried out worldwide.
Advances in medicine have allowed the procedure to be carried out with a greater rate of success than when the procedure was first performed in 1963 by Dr James Hardy in the United States. The recipient in that instance died eighteen days after the transplant was conducted. It would not be until 1981 when the world’s first successful heart-lung transplant took place and not until 1983 that the world’s first successful lung transplant took place.
“Tackling lung disease is imperative as the pollution crisis continues, but lung transplants are inaccessible for the overwhelming majority of Indians.”
AIIMS has a history of transplants, becoming the site of India’s first heart transplant in 1994. India’s first successful heart-lung transplant took place in 1999, at the Madras Medical Mission Hospital in Chennai. Yet in the years since, it has become difficult for many Indians to undergo transplants even as the country has become one of the nations worst-affected by lung disease in the world.
The necessity of treatments for lung disease in Delhi cannot be understated. “Delhi being the capital, and with the alarming pollution levels, this is a much-needed facility. Lung-related diseases are becoming common in the city,” said Dr Vasanthi Ramesh, the director of National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation. As previously reported by Health Issues India, Delhi ranks among the most polluted cities in the country and in the world. This is incurring a devastating impact on health, with elevated risks of a range of noncommunicable conditions including lung disease. Nationwide, 1.2 million lost their lives to pollution in 2017.
Delhi is far from an outlier in this regard. Seven of the world’s ten most polluted cities in the world are in India. New Delhi suburb Gurugram placed first in the rankings. Tackling lung disease is imperative as the pollution crisis continues, but lung transplants are inaccessible for the overwhelming majority of Indians.
“Only a few centres perform lung transplantation in India,” noted a study published earlier this year. “At present, there is a lack of a fully functional lung transplantation program in any public sector hospital in India. This is likely due to the logistic hurdles, which have to be overcome for the establishment of a successful transplant program.”
“There are many who are in need of lung transplants but not many centres across the country offer it,” concurred Dr Aarti Vij, a professor at AIIMS and faculty-in-charge of the Organ Retrieval Banking Organisation (ORBO). “In Delhi, we are the first hospital to have a license to start a proper facility. We had applied for the license a few months ago and the approval came to us in May. In the coming days, we will start working with patients.”