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Russian Doctors At Center Of Children’s Transplant Controversy Ordered Reinstated

Surgeon Mikhail Kaabak was one of two doctors whose dismissal sparked a public outcry. (file photo)
Surgeon Mikhail Kaabak was one of two doctors whose dismissal sparked a public outcry. (file photo)

MOSCOW -- Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova has ordered the reinstatement of two pediatric surgeons whose dismissals had led to public outrage and left dozens of ailing children awaiting desperately needed kidney-transplant treatment.

The Health Ministry said on November 26 that, following a meeting with the doctors, Skvortsova ruled that surgeons Mikhail Kaabak and Nadezhda Babenko should return to their work with the transplant team at the National Medical Research Center for Children's Health (NCHD).

The specific reasons for the reinstatement were not provided in the announcement.

Kaabak is one of the few surgeons in Russia who performs kidney transplant operations for children weighing less than 10 kilograms, usually aged 1 to 2 years old.

Over the past four years, he and Babenko carried out the procedure dozens of times, earning praise and being named to head the new organ-transplant department at the NCHD, where they worked part-time at about one-quarter of the regular salaries paid to such surgeons.

But following 23 operations since the department was established in February, officials said the work had not been approved by proper authorities and fired the two doctors.

The Health Ministry said Kaabak and Babenko were fired because they violated medical protocols when they used an unapproved immunosuppression treatment that involved the temporary weakening of the immune system to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs.

The ministry said that while the medicine in question, Alemtuzumab, is commonly used abroad on child transplant patients to minimize the risk of organ rejection and was authorized by the ministry for other uses, it was not allowed for transplants.

Babenko insisted that the drug was essential to the treatment of patients.

"Children at such an early age cannot accept the standard immunosuppression that is prescribed in the clinical recommendations of the Health Ministry," she told Russian website Pravmir.

Kaabak told Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that his dismissal affected some 300 children preparing for kidney transplant operations or undergoing rehabilitation following surgery.

At the time, however, Skvortsova dismissed Kaabak’s concerns at the time, saying there were "sufficient numbers of specialists" in Russia who could perform such operations.

The NCHD said that a new doctor had been hired to replace Babenko and Kaabak, and "a program was still being implemented to prepare and conduct surgeries related to kidney transplants in children."

After Kaabak’s dismissal, parents of affected children created a petition on to have the medical team led by Kaabak be reinstated, garnering more than 500,000 signatures.

The social-media hashtag #Children_Need_Kaabak (#детям_нужен_каабак) was spread by Russian medical professionals and celebrities, including actress and former parliamentary deputy Maria Kozhevnikova.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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