It might seem a terribly morbid topic to raise during this wonderfully festive holiday period we are entering. But, have you considered that you might be one of the road fatalities that occurs this December-January? And, is it possible that the donation of your organs – heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, cornea, skin – might be suitable as life-saving treatment for another critically ill person?
Currently, the organs of only about 300 South Africans who die every year are donated for transplants of any kind.
Apart from the costs of transplants, especially heart procedures, the shortage of donors is the single biggest factor militating against greater numbers of transplants in SA.
Only 0.3% of South Africans are registered organ donors, compared to 37% of Americans and 24% Australians. And yet, thousands of people die needlessly on our roads and without making provision for it while alive, there is little prospect of their organs being used to save other lives.
Waiting lists of people needing organs are on the rise, but the numbers of donors have not increased.
Ironically, “more aggressive” medical treatment which make it possible to save the lives, for example, of those critically injured in road accidents, has lessened the number of potential donors.
Dr Elmi Muller from the University of Cape Town has written: “Consent rates for organ donation are influenced by religion, socio-economic status and race,” adding that consent rates in the public sector drop as low as 30%, compared to the private sector, where higher socio-economic groups are located and where up to 100% of people counselled to consider organ donations, do so.
She has noted that: “South Africa has one of the highest incidences of renal failure in Africa. It is estimated that we now have over 5 000 patients with end-stage renal failure, and more than 2 500 of these patients are awaiting transplantation. Transplantation is more cost-effective and provides a much better quality of life for these patients than dialysis.”
Among concerns that have been raised about organ donations is that an organ might be removed prematurely. However, in terms of medical protocols, two independent doctors must certify the brain death of the donor before the transplant team can step in to remove an organ. Also, every effort is made to ensure the body is not left disfigured for burial purposes.
Much information-sharing and education on the issue needs to happen among the public generally, but also among medical professionals who are in positions where they may be able to advise the families of patients who are near death to consider donating an organ of their loved one to enable the life of another.
Muller has pointed to the need to make it mandatory hospital policy for doctors to refer every potential organ donor to a transplant co-ordinator.
Of the costs of transplants, Samantha Volschenk, Organ Donor Foundation executive director has said: “It costs more to keep (a patient with kidney disease) on dialysis for a number of years than it would to have a once-off transplant.”
Becoming an organ donor can help save up to seven lives: your heart, liver and pancreas can save three lives and your kidneys and lungs can help up to four people. Furthermore, the donation of tissues such as corneas, skin, bone and heart valves can save up to 50 lives.
Please consider making a donation of one or more organs, rather than leaving that decision to your family or relatives when you are on end-of-life support in hospital. You can help thousands of individuals who suffer from debilitating and life-threatening illness. There is no charge or remuneration for donating an organ.
- The Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa (ODF) is a national non-profit and public benefit organisation established in 1988 to address the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors. Contact the ODF on 0800 22 6611 or via their web site here: https://www.odf.org.za/