David Aldridge of Los Angeles had a kidney transplant in 2006, but he will soon need another. Like many people living with H.I.V., he suffers from kidney damage, either from the virus or from the life-saving medications that keep it at bay.
Until recently, such patients did not receive transplants at all because doctors worried that their health was too compromised. Now they can get transplants, but organ-donor waiting lists are long. And for Mr. Aldridge, 45, and other H.I.V. patients, a potential source of kidneys and livers is off limits, because it is illegal to transplant organs from donors who test positive for the virus — even to others who test positive.
But federal health officials and other experts are calling for repeal of the provision that bans such transplants, a 23-year-old amendment to the National Organ Transplant Act.
“The clock is ticking more quickly for those who are H.I.V.-positive,” said Dr. Dorry Segev, transplant surgery director of clinical research at Johns Hopkins and a co-author of a new study indicating that 500 to 600 H.I.V.-infected livers and kidneys would become available each year if the law were changed. “We have a huge organ shortage. Every H.I.V.-infected one we use is a new organ that takes one more person off the list.”
The ban on transplanting organs from people with the virus that causes AIDS was passed at the height of the AIDS scare in 1988, when infection with the virus was considered a death sentence. But now many people with H.I.V. are living long enough to suffer kidney and liver problems, adding to the demand for organs.
This has led some health authorities to say that H.I.V.-infected organs should be available for transplant, primarily for patients infected with the virus but also potentially for some who are not.