Case Study

Organ transplant flights provide a lifeline in Brazil

Social development Community lifelines

Over 7,000 items – organs, tissues, empty special containers or medical teams – were carried on over 4,000 trips in the country for transplant purposes during 2012, according to data from the national transplant centre of the Brazilian Ministry of Health. Of this, over 99% was carried by air.

The members of Brazil’s national airline association, ABEAR, play a central role in this effort. Avianca, Azul, Trip, Gol, and TAM together carried around 98% of these items, free-of-charge. The project has been supported since 2001, when 15 airlines entered into a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Health.

Since then, the agreement has been revised to facilitate access to flight schedule information in Brazil and strengthen communication channels between airlines and health authorities.

The organs carried are used in varied and complex surgeries. As soon as availability for organ donation is announced, often a race against time begins to perform the extraction and re-implantation. This is where airlines are invaluable, with their ability to shorten distances and save precious minutes, whether by carrying medical teams and supplies to potential donors or by ensuring that organs and tissues reach the recipients.

Aircraft used for this purpose are given priority landing and take-off and the special containers with organs are safely carried in the cabin under the care of the chief flight attendant or pilot. Not all cities in Brazil have hospitals with trained professionals to perform these types of operation, so the service is particularly important for patients living in some of the more remote areas of the country.