If I died tomorrow, donating my organs could help give up to seven people a new lease on life; donating my soft tissue could improve the quality of life of up to 50 more people. In South Africa, where organ donations can dip as low as two per million people, people can wait years for an organ transplant. Many don't live long enough to find a suitable match. It seems like an obvious choice. But many people never even have consider organ donation. Out of 50-million South Africans, only 80 000 or so are registered organ donors. Meanwhile, there are about 4 300 adults and children awaiting solid organs like hearts, lungs and kidneys, and a further 30 000 in need of soft tissue organs like, skin, bone or tendons. Yet in 2011 doctors carried out only 568 transplants.
Improving organ donor rates is a global problem, which many countries are battling to solve. Possible Solution-Presumed consent
Last year the UK's National Health Service began considering reforms that would require people to opt out of organ donation rather than to opt in. The practice, known as presumed consent, is common in Europe and organ donation rates are much higher in countries where opt-out policies are in place. Problems and Concerns
It's hard to say why people are so reluctant to register as organ donors. A lot has been said and written about cultural beliefs and their impact on people's decision to donate. Most major religions accept organ donation on the basis that it could save another person's life. "Issues of religion or culture do come up but it plays a very small role in whether a family will consider organ donation," she said. "The main factor is whether the person who's passed away has expressed a wish to be an organ donor. Problems in South Africa
But this is made difficult by what Michaelides calls "a crisis" in recruiting transplant coordinators. "That's our biggest problem," she said.
Because much of the job involves the clinical management of the donor, transplant coordinators must be intensive care trained nurses – a rare find in South Africa. Emotionally demanding task
Another factor is that there is sometimes a reluctance from medical practitioners to refer a patient who is brain dead to transplant coordinator because they feel the family may be distraught to deal with the question. Michaelides points out that while South Africa does not have an organ donation rate in terms of the national population, there is a high consent rate among those who are asked to consider it. "People are very giving and very kind," she said.
SA's organ donation issue
South Africa's organ donation problem, it seems, is more structural than doctrinal. "If more people understood organ donation, I think more people would donate," said Volschenk. But more importantly, organs can only be retrieved at certified transplant centres. There are only 16 transplant centres in South Africa. All of them based in major cities; and more than half split between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Consent to donating
"The fact is, in South Africa we can promote organ donation and sign on millions of people as donors but if someone dies at a hospital that is not a transplant centre, where the doctors and nurses aren't trained in organ donation, then we can't get those organs," she said. There is one more thing you should know about organ donation in South Africa – it doesn't matter whether you're a card-carrying member of the Organ Donor Foundation, if your next of kin do not consent to donating your organs, doctors may not retrieve them.
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FAQ about organ donation in SA
This section tells you how you can make sure that someday you become a lifesaver, an organ donor, leaving the wonderful legacy of life for others once you've gone. How do I become a potential organ donor?
Just two easy steps:
Phone the Organ Donor Info Line on 0800 22 66 11 and you'll be helped. Talk to your family. Inform them of your intent to become an organ donor. Does organ donation leave the body disfigured?
No. The recovery of organs and tissue is carried out by surgeons and trained staff. They do this with great care and don't disfigure the body. All that can be seen are very neatly stitched surgical incisions – the same as after any operation. How do doctors know that you're really dead?
Two doctors have to carry out a series of tests independently in order to confirm that a patient is brain dead. Brain-stem death usually results because of a severe brain injury that causes all brain activity to stop. It can be caused by a major road accident, a gunshot wound, a stab wound or a fatal stroke. Does being a donor cause delays to funeral arrangements?
No. Everything has to be done very quickly to improve the chances of success. The entire procedure should be completed within twelve hours. Does the family pay for the cost of donation?
No. The hospital or the state will cover all expenses of hospitalisation, medication and removal of organs.