August is Organ Donor Month, and as such, Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health cover, provides an in-depth overview of organ donation in South Africa, including key statistics, the donation process, legal framework, challenges, and initiatives.
Did you know that one organ donor can save up to seven lives and transform over 50 lives, yet only 0,2% of our population are registered organ donors? Sadly, about 4300 people are waiting for a life-saving organ or cornea transplant in South Africa, many of whom may not survive without a transplant.
“Organ transplantation has the power to save and transform lives, offering hope to patients suffering from organ failure,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.
“In South Africa, organ donation plays a crucial role in addressing the shortage of organs for transplantation. Organ Donor Month aims to inspire more South Africans to register as organ donors, debunk myths, address challenges, and work towards a future where organ transplantation becomes more accessible.”
Organ Failure and Transplantation
Organ failure occurs when an organ can no longer function adequately to sustain life. Organ transplantation is often the only viable treatment option for patients with end-stage organ failure. Common organs that can be transplanted include the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, and intestines.
Prevalence of Organ Failure in South Africa
Like many countries, South Africa faces a significant burden of organ failure. Factors such as the rising prevalence of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease contribute to the increasing demand for organ transplantation.
However, despite the growing need, there is a persistent shortage of organs available for transplantation. This shortage leads to long waiting lists and many patients who do not survive long enough to receive a transplant.
Organ Donation Process in South Africa
There are two types of organ donors in South Africa: living donors and deceased donors. Registering for either option is free and takes just a few minutes by logging onto https://odf.org.za/donor-registration-existing-donor-thank-you/.
Living donation involves the selfless act of donating a specific organ, such as a kidney or a portion of the liver, while the donor is still alive. This type of donation typically occurs within the context of close relatives or in cases of directed altruistic donation, where a person willingly donates their organ to a specific needy individual.
Deceased donation refers to procuring organs from individuals declared brain-dead or who have experienced circulatory death. These individuals may have expressed their desire to donate their organs during their lifetime through advanced directives or organ donor registration. Alternatively, their families may provide consent for organ donation on their behalf, respecting their loved one’s wishes or making the decision based on their understanding of the importance of organ donation.
“Both living and deceased donation play significant roles in addressing the critical shortage of organs for transplantation,” adds Hewlett.
“Living donation offers the advantage of the immediate availability of a compatible organ and often provides a faster path to transplantation for the recipient. A deceased donation, on the other hand, has the potential to save multiple lives by utilising organs from individuals who are no longer able to survive.”
Requirements for Becoming an Organ Donor
Specific criteria must be met to become an organ donor in South Africa.
Age and Health Criteria: Most individuals of any age can register as organ donors. However, the suitability of organs for transplantation is determined at the time of death based on medical evaluation.
Consent and Registration Process: Consent is crucial for organ donation. South Africans can indicate their intention to donate by registering as organ donors through the online donor registry, driver’s license application, or by completing a donor card and discussing their decision with family members.
Matching and Allocation of Organs
Organ Procurement Organisations (OPOs), such as the Organ Donor Foundation, play a vital role in the fair and equitable allocation of organs. They maintain waiting lists and use established criteria, such as medical urgency and compatibility, to allocate organs to recipients. OPOs are responsible for coordinating organ donation, ensuring consent, assessing donor suitability, and facilitating organ recovery and transplantation.
Legal Framework for Organ Donation
The Human Tissue Act of 1983 forms the legal framework for organ transplantation in South Africa. It sets out the rules and regulations governing the removal, storage, and transplantation of human organs and tissues.
The amendment to the Human Tissue Act in 2003 introduced significant changes, including stricter regulations to ensure proper consent, increased penalties for illegal organ trade, and provisions for establishing the Southern African Transplantation Society (SATs).
Challenges in Organ Donation in South Africa
Limited knowledge and misconceptions about organ donation contribute to our country’s low donor registration rates. Cultural and religious beliefs may influence attitudes towards organ donation. Some communities may have reservations due to traditional practices or beliefs surrounding the body after death. Mistrust of the healthcare system and concerns about the fair allocation of organs can also deter individuals from becoming organ donors.
In some cases, families of potential deceased donors may not be approached or informed about the option of organ donation in a timely and compassionate manner. This lack of communication and appropriate consent processes can lead to missed opportunities for organ donation.
Organ Donor Month in South Africa is a pivotal platform for raising awareness about organ donation and transplantation. Individuals can actively improve the lives of those in need by recognising the prevalence of organ failure, the shortage of organs for transplantation, and the life-saving potential of organ donation.
“While challenges such as cultural beliefs, lack of awareness, and healthcare infrastructure exist, progress is being made through education, collaboration, advancements in transplantation techniques, and international cooperation. Initiatives and research efforts contribute to increasing public trust, improving outcomes, and expanding the reach of organ transplantation,” concludes Hewlett.