Anyone wanting to donate their body or organs upon death is free to do so.
This is after President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to a Bill that makes it easier for Kenyans to donate their organs for transplant and research.
Having been passed by Parliament on Wednesday, the new Health Act is expected to improve the lives of thousands of patients in dire need of organ transplants.
Also signed into law was the Clinical Officers Act.
The new health laws were among eight Bills that the Head of State signed into law on Wednesday.
The new law, which builds on the Human Tissue Act of 1966 (reviewed in 2012), allows a person who is competent to make a will or oral statement before witnesses to donate their body or specific organs to be used after their death either to save another person’s life or in medical institutions for learning.
In the absence of a will, however, the new law states that “the spouse or spouses, elder child, parent, guardian, eldest brother or sister of that person, in the specific order mentioned, may, after that person’s death, donate the body or any specific tissue of that person to an institution or a person contemplated in this subsection”.
The Cabinet secretary can also step in and donate an individual’s organs in the event that the relatives of a deceased person cannot be traced and no will is left behind.
The donation may be made for training of students in medical learning institutions, for research or advancement of health sciences, or for healing purposes, including the use of tissue in any living person.
The Bill further provides that any transplant of tissues must be done in a duly authorised health facility and after written approval from a medical practitioner in charge of clinical services in that facility.
The doctor authorising the transplant is not allowed to be the lead participant in the transplant, however.
The law will help in dealing with cases where some medical practitioners breach their professional ethics and recommend unnecessary but costly medical interventions to make money. Offences attract a fine not exceeding Sh10 million or imprisonment for not more than 10 years or both.
Prohibitive cost of medical care, difficulty in getting a suitable donor, lack of capacity among medical institutions and policy-related issues have been cited as among the major challenges that patients with organ failure face when seeking treatment.
Often, doctors insist on donors being immediate family members because the likelihood of finding a match is higher.
“The further you move away from the bloodline, the less likely you are to find a donor,” said Kenyatta National Hospital’s Renal Unit head, Dr John Ngigi. “But some patients are unable to get organs from their relatives due to medical reasons, such as a history of diabetes or non-matching blood groups.”
However, an exception is made in special circumstances, such as for married couples, as long as they prove that they are legally married or when tissues from close relatives do not match those of recipients.
Before one is certified as a suitable donor, rigorous background checks, sometimes running up to three months, must be conducted.
But even though the background checks help to prevent illegal practices, including organ harvesting and trade, some potential donors give up along the way because the process is tedious.
By allowing for organ donation from the deceased, the cost incurred by patients, who have had to travel abroad for specialised health care due to lack of clear legislation, is expected to be significantly reduced.