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Become a lifesaver by donating organs

Registration is quick, easy and costs nothing

Only 2% of patients receive an organ donation from a deceased donor within a year of being on the waiting list.
Only 2% of patients receive an organ donation from a deceased donor within a year of being on the waiting list.
Image: Supplied

SA has one of the largest populations in the world, with more than 60-million people living in the country but the number of registered organ donors is just 410,000, according to Organ Donor Foundation.

This means that only 2% of at least 4,700 patients waiting for life-saving organ transplants receive a much-needed organ a year.

The foundation’s executive director of operations, Samantha Nicholls, says at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the pressure on medical services virtually brought transplant services to a halt.

“During the pandemic, the number of deceased donors dramatically dropped from 92 to 38.

“However, in the world of transplantation, returning to normal will never mean that the catch-up game is over. It is never over,” says Nicholls.

August is Organ Donor Month and the foundation is encouraging people to register as donors to save lives, with Nicholls unpacking organ donation and transplant.

“We urge all South Africans to register as organ donors, to share their decision to donate with their family and to motivate their family and friends to register too.

“It is quick and easy and costs nothing, but this simple action saves lives as an increase in donor registrations leads to an increase in organ transplants,” says Nicholls.

What is organ donation and transplant?

Organ donation takes place when a family gives consent for a loved one declared brain dead and is being supported on a ventilator to donate their organs to up to seven patients waiting for a transplant. The seven organs that the donor can potentially donate are the heart, liver, pancreas, two kidneys and two lungs. Alternatively, a live donor can donate a kidney or partial liver to a person waiting for a kidney or liver transplant.

What is the importance of organ donation?

Organ donation saves lives. When a person has suffered end-stage organ failure, their only hope and possibility for a cure is to receive a life-saving organ transplant. One must also consider that end-stage organ failure does not discriminate in terms of gender, age or social status as patients requiring a life-saving organ transplant range from babies to adults. The harsh reality is that those patients who do not receive an organ transplant in time will die. Another harsh reality is that the number of people needing a transplant is vastly greater than the number of organs donated. Organ donation also reduces health care costs, increases quality of life, and promotes independence and economic productivity. Organ donation is a lifeline.

How do these organs help those in need?

It provides a lifeline to a person suffering from end-stage organ failure. So many patients wait for years for a transplant, while others die due to not receiving a transplant in time. Patients waiting for a kidney transplant will receive dialysis treatment on an ongoing basis in the interim, however, due to the high number of South Africans suffering from end-stage kidney disease, there are not enough dialysis treatment facilities to accommodate everyone, and those who do not receive this treatment will die.

What is the need for organ donation and transplant compared to the registered donors?

At any given time, there are at least 4,700 patients waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, with only 2% receiving an organ donation from a deceased donor within the period of a year. This means that only 100 people out of the 4,700 manage to receive a transplant from a deceased donor on an annual basis.

What do these statistics tell us? What does all this mean for people in need of organ transplants?

The statistics are devastating as they confirm that there is a huge disparity between the number of people needing a transplant and the number of organs donated. This means that patients suffering end-stage organ failure will either wait for years, if not decades, for a transplant and that most will die before receiving a transplant.

What is the most in-demand organ?

The most frequently transplanted and most desperately needed organ is the kidney.

Can a family make a last-minute decision to donate a relative’s organ? What process would they have to follow?

A person only qualifies to be a donor if they have been declared brain dead by two independent medical professionals and are being supported on a ventilator. Brain death means that messages can no longer be relayed to and from the brain and that once the ventilator is removed the person will never be able to breathe on their own.

At the time of death, we urge the family to call our toll-free line on 0800 22 66 11 during office hours or to phone the after-hours emergency number on 082 318 4376, so that a staff member can assist. Alternatively, the family can share their wishes for their loved one to be a donor with the treating medical professionals and can ask to speak to a transplant coordinator, who will provide the necessary information and care and assist with the process.

How does one become an organ donor?

It is very quick and easy to register online at www.odf.org.za, or by phoning our toll-free line on 0800 22 66 11. South Africans can also register via Facebook, or by scanning a QR code or by filling out a registration form found on the back of our brochures. The crucial step after registering is to tell one’s family of their intention and commitment to being a donor as a donation cannot take place unless the next-of-kin grants consent.

Do people need to go for medical tests before they can be registered organ donors?

No, as the necessary tests will take place at the time of death to determine if the organs are suitable for donation.

Who can’t be an organ donor?

There are only a handful of diseases that would make one ineligible to be an organ donor, such as where the potential donor has a cancer that is spreading or in those instances where the person has a severe infection or suffers from viral meningitis or active tuberculosis. Often people are not aware that even an HIV positive person can donate to a recipient who is also HIV positive. The Organ Donation Foundation asks everyone to register as donors, regardless of their age or diagnosis, as the relevant medical tests will take place at the time of death. In the instance where one organ is not suitable for donation, there is still the chance that the remaining organs could potentially save lives or that the donor’s tissue has the potential to improve lives.


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