MONTREAL -- The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't just affected the health of those hit by the virus, as organ donations in Canada have fallen by almost 40 per cent.

Sunday marks the beginning of National Organ and Tissue Donation Week. According to data from the David Foster Foundation, donations dropped by 39 per cent in 2020, but the trend had been ongoing for some time.

“We have a lot of work to do in our country. We live in one of the greatest countries, we're incredibly blessed, yet we have one of the worst donor registration rates in all developed countries,” said foundation CEO Michael Ravenhill.

In Canada, up to 1,600 people are added to the wait list for a transplant each year. In Quebec, more than 800 people are currently waiting for a donation.

According to Transplant Canada, one in five families refused to donate organs of loved ones in the past year, despite written consent.

“When we look at Canada, our average organ donor percentage is just over 20 per cent,” said Ravenhill. “Could you imagine if we could raise that bar just that much more, how many lives we could save?”

Sol Kasimer is one of the people whose life could be saved. Kasimer has long helped others, first as an outreach worker at the YMCA and working his way up to YMCA Canada's CEO until his retirement. Living in Toronto and now 74-years-old, he's in need of a kidney donation. Family, friends and former colleagues have volunteered to see if they're a match, as have total strangers.

“These are strangers, so one person is actually going through the evaluation process,” he said. “It's amazing the humanity that's out there.”

Currently, each province manages its own donation and transplant lists, something patients' rights advocate Paul Brunet said should change.

“How about we coordinate and have the best number possible of donors and recipients?” he said. “This is called coordination, this is called collaborative federalism.”