Organ donation gets boost through Facebook
Every 10 minutes someone is added to the organ donation waiting list, according to organdonor.gov. Last year Facebook upped the ante on organ donation by creating a way for users to change their status to “organ donor”on the social networking site.
Once users shared their new status as an organ donor, they were given a link to their official state donor registry and a message was sent to their friends informing them of their new status. Their friends could then change their own status as well and share the message to others.
The gains made last year have been researched by Johns Hopkins and the findings, published in the June 2013 issue of the American Journal of Transplantation, suggest that social media may serve as an effective tool in combatting the U.S. organ shortfall.
Researchers examined the online registration activity in state registries for the weeks following Facebook’s organ donor initiative. They saw a large spike in donor registration in all states. On the first day of the initiative, there were 13,054 new online registrations. The number of people who registered themselves as organ donors on Facebook increased 21-fold in a single day over the baseline average of 616 registrations, the report revealed.
“The short-term response was incredibly dramatic, unlike anything we had ever seen before in campaigns to increase the organ donation rate,” said study leader Dr. Andrew Cameron in a statement. “And at the end of two weeks, the number of new organ donors was still climbing at twice the normal rate,” he said.
“If we can harness that excitement in the long term, then we can really start to move the needle on the big picture. The need for organ donors vastly outpaces the available supply, and this could be a way to change the equation,” said Dr. Cameron, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Despite many efforts, over the last 20 years, donor numbers have remained relatively static while the number of people in need of transplants has grown 10-fold. More than 118,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for livers, kidneys, and other organs. Sadly, thousands of these people will die before they receive transplants.
According to estimates, between 5,000 and 10,000 people die every year whose organs would be suitable for transplant but because they did not consent to be donors, their organs go unused.
While the number of declared organ donors increased, it could be decades before researchers determine whether those people ultimately donate their organs.
“Our research speaks to ongoing efforts to address the organ availability crisis in the United States. It also suggests that social media and social networks may be valuable tools in reapproaching refractory public health problems,” said Dr. Cameron.
“However, the bump we saw did diminish over weeks, implying that more work is needed to assure sustainability or ‘virality’ in this case,” said Dr. Cameron.
He added that the long-term significance of this work will be realized only when the use of social media and social networks is examined in terms of its impact on the nation’s organ supply.
Downers Grove, Illinois-based Advocate Health Care has several hospitals with highly recognized organ donation programs. Advocate partners with the Gift of Hope organization. To learn more about the benefits of organ donation and how you can help save a life, visit giftofhope.org.
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