SINGAPORE: Over the last three years, Singapore has seen an increase in skin donations for those who need grafts after serious burns.
This is an encouraging sign given that Singapore had to turn to tissue banks abroad such as Australia, United States and Canada in the past due to a shortage of local skin donors.
Doctors say one reason for this is because the age limit for skin donors increased from 75 to 90 years old in 2014.
As such, the number of donors last year more than tripled compared to 2014. In 2014, the number of recipients was 17 while the number of donors was 6. In 2016, the number of recipients was 8 while the number of donors was 20.
Another reason for this increase is due to greater public awareness of the Medical (Therapy, Education and Research) Act which helped to reduce the stigma of organ or body parts donation.
One skin donor is businessman Joseph Loy, whose daughter Megan, suffered severe burns on 80 per cent of her body in a water park blast in Taipei in 2015.
Initially, doctors had said that her chances of recovery were dismal.
But over the weeks, Megan went through nine skin grafts and doctors described her rate of recovery as a miracle.
Mr Loy said: "While at the burns unit, she benefited from a lot of skin donations from the skin banks and that saved her life. Doctors told us that skin is hard to come by - whether to purchase it or seek donors. Naturally, my wife and I decided we should be donors ourselves. We should give back what the hospital has given to us and hopefully all this will continue to save more lives in the future."
Each year, the burns centre at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) treats about 200 patients - of which ten per cent sustain severe burns.
Most of the burn injuries are due to industrial accidents and domestic accidents such as toddlers being scalded by hot water at home.
Without skin transplants, many severe burn patients could succumb to severe infection leading to death.
Dr Chong Si Jack, consultant at the Plastic, reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery department at SGH, said: "The skin bank underwent an organisational transformation and we together with the heart valve bank, the iliac veins bank, fall under the SingHealth tissue transplant programme. This allows the amalgamation and pulling of resources together. With the increased number of tissue co-ordinators and counsellors, we are able to reach out to more patients and families."
"Singapore no longer needs to buy skins from other skin banks to cater for ourselves. In fact, we do have enough for little stockpiles in case of a disaster," he added.
Singapore's experience in building up its skin bank has drawn the attention of countries like Bangladesh.
Bangladesh wants to develop its own skin bank within its new Sheikh Hasina Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute that will be ready by the end of next year.
Dr Samanta Lal Sen, chief co-ordinator of all burns units in Bangladesh, said: "We also want to have a nice skin bank in our new institute. All the technical support from SingHealth will definitely benefit our new institute. If we can get the technical and consultancy support from SingHealth, we can improve our own skin bank in the initial stage."
This collaboration comes under a three-year Memorandum of Understanding signed in April this year between Bangladesh's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and one of Singapore's healthcare groups SingHealth.