Adult liver transplantation in Johannesburg, South Africa (2004 - 2016): Balancing good outcomes, constrained resources and limited donors
Background. Liver transplantation is the standard of care for the treatment of liver failure worldwide, yet millions of people living in sub-Saharan Africa remain without access to these services. South Africa (SA) has two liver transplant centres, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg, where Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre (WDGMC) started an adult liver transplant programme in 2004.
Objectives. To describe the outcomes of the adult liver transplant programme at WDGMC.
Methods. This was a retrospective review of all adult orthotopic liver transplants performed at WDGMC from 16 August 2004 to 30 June 2016 with a minimum follow-up of 6 months. The primary outcome was recipient and graft survival and the effect of covariates on survival. Kaplan-Meier survival analysis included all adults who underwent their first transplant for end-stage liver disease (ESLD) (N=275). Proportional hazards regression analysis using hazard ratios (HRs) was conducted to determine which covariates were associated with a significantly increased risk of mortality.
Results. A total of 297 deceased-donor liver transplants were performed during the study period; 19/297 (6.4%) were for acute liver failure (ALF) and the remainder were for ESLD. The median age of recipients was 51 years (interquartile range 41 - 59), and two-thirds were male. The most common cause of ESLD was primary sclerosing cholangitis. The median follow-up was 3.2 years, and recipient survival was characterised in the following intervals: 90 days = 87.6% (95% confidence interval (CI) 83.1 - 91.0), 1 year = 81.7% (95% CI 76.6 - 85.8), and
5 years = 71.0% (95% CI 64.5 - 76.5). Allograft survival was similar: 90 days = 85.8% (95% CI 81.1 - 89.4), 1 year = 81.0% (95% CI 75.8 - 85.2), and 5 years = 69.1% (95% CI 62.6 - 74.7). The most significant covariates that impacted on mortality were postoperative biliary leaks (HR 2.0 (95% CI 1.05 - 3.80)), recipient age >60 years at time of transplant (HR 2.06 (95% CI 1.06 - 3.99)), theatre time >8 hours (HR 3.13 (95% CI 1.79 - 5.48)), and hepatic artery thrombosis (HR 5.58 (95% CI 3.09 - 10.08)). The most common infectious cause of death was invasive fungal infection.
Conclusions. This study demonstrates that outcomes of the adult orthotopic liver transplant programme at WDGMC are comparable with international transplant centres. Management of biliary complications, early hepatic artery thrombosis and post-transplant infections needs to be improved. Access to liver transplantation services is still extremely limited, but can be improved by addressing the national shortage of deceased donors and establishing a national regulatory body for solid organ transplantation in SA.
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