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Awareness of the crippling situation regarding organ donations within the Hindu community has taken bite. A packed conference on the matter has successfully raised the profile of the problem, and the drive to move for a nationwide campaign is firmly on the cards. Drawing comfort from the successful campaign launch at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir on Saturday 9 July 2011, the Hindu Forum of Britain, Hindu Healthcare Society and BAPS Charities, are already drawing up a tailored strategy to push for a doubling of current donor figures.

Chief Guest, Baroness Sandip Verma of Leicester said: “This really is a crucial conference today. And I hope that when each one of you leaves, you will take the message to at least five other people. Because we are a fantastic community for doing community work, the difficulty we have, is that there are things that are so taboo to us, we find difficult to talk and express about. And, organ donation is, I am afraid, one of those areas."

Professor of Diversity in Public Health at the University of Bedfordshire, Professor Gurch Randhawa, Cardiothoracic Transplant Surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Dr Majid Mukadam, and Senior Nurse- Modern Matron at Harefield Hospital, London, Sherrie Panther answered questions from delegates. The conference also heard from the Saminis of the Jain tradition about the Jain perspective to organ donation as well as from Hindu spiritual leaders. Heartfelt testimonies from Hindu patients who are still awaiting transplants, and how the anguish and desperation affect their lives and families were highlighted.

After a number of seminars and public debate, Hindu Forum of Britain president, Arjan Vekaria, identified communication and apathy as the two greatest challenges that would determine the success of the campaign, and the key to giving the gift of life to those on transplantation waiting lists. “The three organizations pushing for this campaign are all focused on this life and death issue, and we are convinced that we will double the donor list figures,” he said. 

Representing Hindu Healthcare Society, Dr Diviash Thakrar showed that although over 1 on 10 on the waiting list for an organ were Asian in origin, only 1.3% on the donor list were Asians. This related primarily to a high demand for kidney transplants due to an increased incidence of heart disease and diabetes in the Asian community. The lack of Hindus on the list is thought to be related mainly to apathy and the fear of thinking about the issue of death. However in contrast, in our survey of the community opinions, up to 72% would accept and organ if needed an 66% would be willing to donate their organs. With this in mind the society would like to work with the other organisations in the team to convert this willingness into action and increase the numbers of Hindus joining the organ donor list. The society plans to help contacts at the University level (to target the younger generation) and run an awareness campaign at different community sites.

Representing BAPS Charities, Dr Sejal Saglani was concerned with the 77% figure and the fact that the ultimate decision to donate organs rested with next of kin. “The wishes of the deceased may not be met by the family, even if they had agreed to donate their organs. This is why it is important that the subject of organ donation is discussed within the family. It is not just important to double organ donor numbers, but equally vital to ensure that when a person agrees to register, their relatives also understand the importance of the matter and respect their wishes,” she said. She believed that youngsters were the greatest ambassadors to push the issue to the fore and to spark discussions in family circles. Dr Saglani intends to mobilise 40 BAPS national centres to drive the message across the country.

Vice-chair of the National Kidney Federation, and kidney transplant recipient, Kirit Modi, explained how the medical, as well as the procedural process for live kidney donors, is less intrusive now than what most people think – largely due to the use of keyhole surgery. There are specialized and dedicated medical staff to provide support and advice to family members throughout the process of removing organs from a deceased donor. In Spain, organ donation and transplantation is the norm and we need to learn from their good practice. He reminded the audience that every day, three people die as a result of organ shortages, and it is unacceptable that in our day and age, we have not been able to find effective ways of dealing with this. Transplantation can save resources and it is estimated the NHS can save £500 million per year if we can improve the rates of donation and transplantation. "Donating is not simply giving, it is the highest charity that any individual can give,” he said. secretary general of Hindu Forum of Britain, Bharti Tailor, intends to mobilize 50 organisations that fall under the HFB. She said that a strong communication drive, increased donor-recipient groups and improved chaplaincy services would help increase the donor figures. “We must engage on this issue at all levels. It is important that the youth also understand this problem and the HFB intends to work with the National Hindu Student Forum) to support this. Armed with the data and responses from the conference, we will develop a strong platform to promote this campaign."

Over a hundred people representing different community groups attended the conference and left with plenty of food for thought. At the end of the day, more than half of the attendees pledged to register for organ donation and expressed their concern at how little knowledge they possessed on the subject prior to the conference, and how afterwards when they understood the issue, they wanted to give the gift of life.

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