Organ transplants are on the rise in Canada thanks to an increase in the number of deceased donors, a new study says, but there is still a "significant gap" between the number of donors and patients who need new organs.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information released a report Tuesday on end-stage organ failure treatment from 2003 to 2012. It shows the rate of deceased organ donors has risen 17 per cent in the last decade.

The institute says that's significant because deceased donors can provide up to eight organs, while a living donor can provide only one. 

“It’s positive news in the sense that we’re seeing upward trends in the number of deceased donors, but there is still a gap between Canada’s deceased donor rates and what we see in places like Spain and the U.S,” said Greg Webster, a director with the institute whose portfolio includes the Canadian Organ Replacement Register.

There were 15.5 deceased organ donors in Canada per million population in 2012, compared to 26 per million in the U.S. and 36 per million in Spain, the country with the highest donation rate.

Webster described some of the increases as "moderate positive improvement."

  • There were 2,225 organ transplants in Canada in 2012, up almost five per cent over the previous year.
  • The number of transplants has increased annually over the last four years.
  • Deceased donors totalled 540 compared to 539 live donors, marking the first year where deceased donors outnumbered live ones.
  • The 1,079 organ donors resulted in 2,225 organ transplants. 

Webster said the living donor rate has also increased slightly and measures up well with other countries, but that there is still room for improvement.

Two hundred and thirty Canadians died waiting for an organ transplant in 2012, while 4,612 were waiting for organs at the end of the year.  

Transplants Waiting list Deaths while waiting
Heart 164 183 15
Lungs 194 329 69
Liver 494 492 62
Kidneys 1,358 3,428 84

(Above chart does not include numbers for pancreas or small-intestine transplants

The vast majority of people waiting for a transplant need a kidney.

By the end of 2012, there were more than 41,000 people living with end-stage kidney disease — 42 per cent with a kidney transplant, 58 per cent on dialysis.

The institute said transplants improve outcomes and quality of life for patients compared to dialysis, and they also have a cost benefit. 

"People living with a kidney transplant cost the health-care system approximately $50,000 less a year," he said.

Aside from further promoting organ donations, Webster said another response is to deal with Type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable and the No. 1 cause of end-stage kidney disease in Canada.