IssueMarch 21Opinion

Crowdfunding for organ transplant

From confusion to clarity

Twenty-five-year-old Sindhu had been diagnosed with drug-induced liver damage and the only remedy was to get a liver transplant. The surgery would have cost the family over Rs 40 lakh. “My family was struggling to put together funds for my sister’s treatment, till help came from all quarters from total strangers,” says Sindhu’s sister Priyanka. 3000+ strangers contributed to Sindhu’s campaigns and a whooping Rs 36 lakh was raised in three days. Thanks to them, today Sindhu and her sister Priyanka who donated 60 per cent of her liver, risking her life, are now doing well.

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Hubail Abrar, a one-year-old from Ernakulam, hardly had 48 hours for the transplant. A fundraiser on crowdfunding platform raised 14 lakhs overnight and the doctors could go ahead with the treatment at the right time. Even amid the Covid crisis, crowd funding platforms have witnessed an unprecedented wave of generosity from people.

Stalin, father of seven-year-old Betina said, “For me, 19 lakhs in three days was a huge sum to afford. I tried borrowing from family and friends but did not managed to collect even half the sum. I even reached out to my friends and colleagues but wasn’t able to gather the required sum.”

(L-R) Hubail Amrar before the transplant; Hubail Amrar with his twin brother – After the transplant

He further added, “I am thankful to the hospital management and doctors who recommended me to start a fundraiser on a crowd funding platform. I was able to raise funds within a few minutes and it took us barely a couple of days to raise Rs 17 lakhs for my daughter’s treatment. My daughter has undergone the liver transplant operation and is doing very well. I am grateful to all donors who helped me save the life of my child.”

Medical emergencies can knock at your door anytime and sometimes even savings of a lifetime is not enough. Such uncertainties can befall anyone and without help in sight, lives can be lost or families can be ruined. The emergence of crowdfunding as a platform to raise funds for emergency or tertiary healthcare has come as a ray of hope to many such families crushed under the burden of hospital bills. In most cases, crowdfunding is not the only source of funding and is often the last resort after exhausting all other avenues.

Despite transplants costs in India being the lowest in the world, it is still well beyond the reach of Indian middle-class families. Among transplants of critical organs such as kidney, liver and heart, a liver transplant is the most expensive, with costs ranging between Rs15-30 lakh. The government’s national health mission programme, Ayushman Bharat, which aims at providing Rs 5 lakh medical insurance to 10 crore Indians, covers chemotherapy and radiation costs for cancer patients but does not cover organ transplant. The Tamil Nadu government provides funds for liver and bone marrow transplants, but there is no chance for it to reach everyone, as there are eligibility norms. Most families do not have insurance coverage and those who do may find their covers insufficient to take care of the entire cost of the transplant and beyond.

Milaap was started 10 years ago, and had raised Rs 400 crores towards the medical needs of people. Till date, more than Rs 80.2 crore has been raised for liver-related ailments through this platform. Most users are from middle and lower-middle class families, who do not fit into any schemes. People use the platform when they run out of options such as insurance cover and savings. With more than 20 lakh donors in and outside India, thirty per cent of them have contributed more than once.

Sometime in 2015, Dr Sonal Asthana, liver transplant surgeon at Aster Hospital, Bengaluru, and his team possibly became the first doctors in India to set up a campaign on a crowdfunding platform for a transplant. Since 2013, Dr Asthana has been working with private foundations and CSR teams of corporate hospitals to fund liver transplants. Milaap has a network of 2000 + partners including 300+ hospitals in 35 cities. Many doctors recommend crowd funding platforms over NGO to raise funds for the treatment, especially for paediatric liver transplants.

“For a patient living with liver disease, the financial burden could be tremendous. The cost of a liver transplant plus a lifelong commitment to immuno-suppressant is out of the reach of a common man. Our collaboration with Milaap has made liver transplants affordable for many,” said Dr Mohamed Rela, a senior liver transplant surgeon.

In the recent year, there’s been a surge in fundraisers for children needing urgent liver transplants. Paediatric liver ailments account for the largest share of medical fundraisers. Milaap has supported 12,000 medical fundraisers for children (0-18 years) to date, which have altogether raised more than Rs 155 crore for this cause. Of these, nearly 1,500 fundraisers have been for children with liver-related ailments that have raised nearly Rs 35 crore. This crowdfunding platform has directly or indirectly aided over 50 per cent of paediatric liver transplants performed in the country till date.

Reasons, why campaigns run for children, tend to be more successful are aplenty. One, children not only evoke unparalleled feelings of sympathy and generosity, but the sense of gratification of saving a child, who has his/her entire life ahead of him, is immense. The second is the high success rates that paediatric transplants enjoy. I believe that crowdfunding opens up an alternate financing option for such medical emergencies, and liver transplants, in particular, are a kind of treatment with higher success rates, particularly among children. Urgency is one of the key psychological triggers that cause people to donate, needs like these are more likely to receive support online.

Crowdfunding is an option for patients and their surgeons who work with cutting-edge technologies and want to provide better quality-of-life to their patients.

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