Letter to Editor
As someone who has worked closely with Dr. Enrique Ona, recently appointed health secretary by President Benigno Aquino III, I would like to shed light on some misconceptions. Since his appointment, some in the media have alleged that Dr. Ona engaged in organ trade. These accusations have no bases.
Under Dr. Ona’s watch, the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI), the first ISO-accredited government hospital, became the country’s leader in the diagnosis and treatment of renal and urologic diseases, and one of the top performers of kidney transplants in a single center, in the world.
Dr. Ona and the NKTI took part in a program of regulating transplantation from non-directed organ donors. These are donors who are not related to the intended organ recipient but are willing to donate their organ to save the life of a patient destined for a lifetime of dialysis.
Part of the program was for a Foundation to assist these donors by providing them with the proper healthcare after surgery, financial assistance for the time they were being evaluated for donation, through surgery and the recovery period, life insurance, health insurance and a livelihood or educational package, depending on the donor’s needs as assessed by a social worker. This was called a “gift of gratitude” for donors in recognition that their donation saved another person’s life.
The Institute ensured that these donors were properly informed about the procedure, the risks involved, and the medical follow-ups necessary to ensure their health. The donors were likewise reviewed by a psychiatrist to ensure their motivation to, and expectations from donation. The donors’ cases were reviewed by the Institute’s Transplant Ethics Committee, a multi-sectoral group, and if approved, the donation was allowed after the donor passed the stringent medical evaluation prior to donation.
This entire program was allowed at that time by the Department of Health. Dr. Ona has never engaged in organ trade. His only interest then and now, is how to alleviate death of patients diagnosed with kidney failure and a life on dialysis, but do not have the means for this treatment, and are surely doomed to death once finances run out.
As the father of organ transplantation in the country, Dr. Ona is responsible for pushing transplantation as the most important treatment for kidney failure. He found through the years that dialysis was a good treatment but was expensive, and not affordable for majority of Filipinos beyond 1 year. Only a kidney transplant could restore a patient’s quality of life and fully rehabilitate him to re-join the labor force of the country.
Romina A. Danguilan, MD
Chair, Department of Adult Nephrology
National Kidney and Transplant Institute
East Avenue, Quezon City