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World Transplant Games kick off in Perth, addressing the major disparity in organ donations among First Nations communities

Joseph Guenzler -

The World Transplant Games in Perth have been used to highlight the disparity faced by Indigenous Australians who face five times the risk of kidney disease and a lower chance of receiving organs.

Only a small percentage of First Nations people (9.5 per cent) are waitlisted compared to non-Indigenous counterparts.

The consent rates for organ donation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families were significantly lower than non-Indigenous families in 2016, with only 20 per cent providing consent compared to 67 per cent.

To address this issue, Transplant Australia is actively promoting the discussion of organ donation within these communities to encourage consent for organ donation.

The Games opened with a welcome to country by Noongar Elder, Dr Richard Wally.

Ken Farmer, Indigenous heart recipient in attendance at the World Transplant Games in Perth, WA. (Supplied)

Rhanee Lester, a 36-year-old Adnyamathanha woman from South Australia, has received two kidney transplants which have saved her life. She was due to compete at the Games but sadly had to pull out last minute.

Motivated by her own experience with kidney disease, Rhanee has been dedicated to improving outcomes for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who also face this illness.

For nearly two decades, she has tirelessly worked to provide support and advocacy for those affected by kidney disease, as well as to promote research into its impact on these communities.

In another case, Rowena Alexander tragically lost her 20 year-old daughter, Macaiah, five years ago. She made the difficult but selfless decision to donate three of her daughter's organs.

Macaiah's lungs and kidneys were transplanted into three different individuals, effectively saving their lives. Despite the immense grief of losing her daughter, knowing that Macaiah's organs had given a new lease of life to others brought Rowena some solace.

"Knowing that those three people are out there gives me something to smile about during the darkest times of my grief," she said.

Ms Alexander is among a growing number of Indigenous families in Australia who have been embracing the idea of organ and tissue donation, even though it has traditionally been a difficult subject to discuss due to cultural beliefs that deemed it taboo.

Despite this, Ms Alexander decided to donate her daughter's organs after witnessing the sufferings of many of her community members who were waiting for a kidney transplant.

She hopes that her decision to donate will inspire others to do the same and bring positive changes to the lives of those in need of organ transplants.

"We need more Aboriginal donors, so that we can save the lives of more Aboriginal people. This issue is just too important to ignore," she said.

Richard Walley, Rose Parker, Transplant Australia CEO Chris Thomas, Jim Fisher and Dan Riches. (Supplied)

Transplant Australia chief executive Chris Thomas said the Games was an opportunity to highlight the inequalities faced by Indigenous Australians, in relation to transplants, on a global scale.

Mr Thomas said increasing donor rates within Indigenous communities is vital to increasing Indigenous transplant recipient rates.

"Patients from communities with smaller population numbers will have a lower probability of finding a donor match as their immunological profiles will be underrepresented in the donor pool," he said.

"Indigenous Australians receive a kidney transplant at about a quarter of the rate of non-Indigenous Australians and that inequality needed addressing urgently.

"Kidney transplantation is the optimal treatment for End Stage Kidney Failure but there is significant and persistent disparity in transplants to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Sadly, Indigenous Australians are also five times more likely to suffer kidney disease due to lifestyle, genetic and economic factors," Mr Thomas said.

"Governments need to address these challenges and Transplant Australia can play a role by advocating for improvements.

"And people like Rowena and Rhanee can play a vital role in sharing her family's story with the community.

"Rowena's story of the donation of her daughter's organs is so powerful and we are very grateful she has been willing to speak publicly about such an extremely painful experience."

Watch the full opening ceremony here.

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