Before leaving on their August recess, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Commerce and Energy Committee passed the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act that would lift the ban on transplants from HIV-positive donors. The U.S. Senate passed a similar bill in June. This legislation would allow transplants between HIV-positive donors and recipients. Such transplants are already done for patients with hepatitis C.
Antiretroviral medications do prolong the lifespan of people living with HIV, but they are still at risk for organ failure. A 2011 study from Johns Hopkins University estimated 500 to 600 donors per year could be available for HIV-positive transplant candidates and argued for lifting the ban. Congress enacted the ban in 1988 when AIDS cases were increasing and doctors had less information about HIV transmission.
It is still not known what the long-term outcome of these transplants would be. A 2010 clinical trial followed 150 HIV-positive recipients of transplants for three years and found most transplants were successful. However, physicians are still determining how to balance patients' antiviral medications with the immunosuppressive drugs usually given to transplant recipients.
The proposed legislation would improve this limited knowledge by directing the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network (OPTN), the national patient waiting list and database for organ transplants, to monitor research on transplants between HIV-positive individuals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would use the data collected by OPTN to develop new healthcare standards.
A full House vote on the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act must wait until Congress returns from recess. If the Act passes, the House and Senate will negotiate on the final version of the bill later this year. At this time, the White House has not taken a formal position on the bill.