PETALING JAYA - Malaysia is in critical need of more organ transplant surgeons but even if there were, there is a lack of medical teams to retrieve the organs from deceased donors.
At present, the country has fewer than 10 such surgeons, said the Malaysian Society of Transplantation (MST).
And only two dedicated "organ retrieval" teams - one from Hospital Kuala Lumpur and another from the Hospital Selayang in Selangor, it said.
With over 20,000 on the waiting list, the Health Ministry has decided that it is time to expand the force behind organ transplants.
Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Jeyaindran Sinnadurai said plans were underway to train more specialists and double the number of teams that retrieve organs from donors.
"These teams have to make their way throughout the country," he told Sunday Star.
"We want to double the number of such teams so that they can reach more locations quickly and cover wider areas like the east coast, Sabah and Sarawak," he said.
Doing this will boost the number and efficiency of organ transplants in the country, he added.
"Donating an organ is the greatest gift a person can offer," said Dr Jeyaindran. "As such, the mechanism to deliver that gift of life should be strengthened."
Most on the organ transplant wait list are in need of kidneys but only 1 per cent of the Malaysian population have pledged to donate.
In 2015, it was reported that there were only about a dozen transplant surgeons in Malaysia, leading patients to wait for years before a procedure could be done.
MST president Datuk Dr Ghazali Ahmad said this number dropped to fewer than 10.
"There is also a lack of dedicated operating theatres and intensive care unit beds for transplants," he said.
Dr Ghazali said medical professionals within a region sometimes formed ad-hoc teams to retrieve organs from deceased donors in the area.
But because this was not their main duty, they often had to attend to their official tasks first, he pointed out.
Dr Jeyaindran said the main challenge was to increase the capacity of skilled medical staff.
"The ministry is now trying to have more transplant surgeons, pathologists and anaesthetists. We are looking into getting foreign and local experts to train more specialists," he said.
Dr Jeyaindran said that while transplants could be scheduled for living donors who might be family members, it was different when it involved deceased organ donors.
"The process of removing the organs and transplanting them into patients can be challenging because the retrieval can be at odd hours of the day.
"There is also the issue of compatibility. An organ retrieved from Kuala Lumpur may not be suitable for a patient from the same area.
"But if it's a match for someone in Alor Setar, then the necessary logistics have to be done - and this could take time," he said, adding that some organs might not last for long periods.
On the Organ and Tissue Transplantation Bill, which deters organ trading, Dr Jeyaindran said the Bill would be tabled in Parliament before the end of the year.