By Thakira Desai
South Africa is facing a dire shortage of organ donors, particularly for heart transplants. That’s according to the Organ Donor Foundation, as South Africa celebrates 50 years since the first successful heart transplant.
Despite the country being home to world renowned surgeons and world-class medical facilities, the foundation reports a 40 per cent decrease in heart transplants.
At a media briefing this morning, the foundation said 70 per cent of people indicated that they would gladly accept an organ if they needed it, but 78 per cent from the same group surveyed were not prepared to donate their organs. The foundation believes there is an “apathetic” approach to agreeing to organ donation.
The foundation’s briefing took place in the state-of-the-art Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, the namesake of the South African surgeon who performed the first successful heart transplant, 50 years ago. Speakers included SA heart transplant surgeons, Dr Susan Vosloo and Dr Otto Thaning, both prominent cardiothoracic surgeons, with Dr Thaning having received training under Professor Christiaan Barnard. Also in attendance was Professor Evance Kalula, who is a well-known legal academic at the University of Cape Town and a heart recipient himself.
Speaking to VOC, executive director of Organ Donation Foundation, Samantha Nicholls, said approximately 4 300 adults and children require solid-organ transplants. She said that less than 400 transplants were performed last year.
“There really is a difference between the need and the amount of transplants performed,” she noted.
Commenting on the decrease in heart transplants within the country, Nicholls says that in the year 2000 there were 41 heart transplants. With 25 heart transplants conducted in 2016.
She adds that there has been a decrease in the number of total solid-organ transplants.
“We know that more people need to be made aware of organ donations.”
The problem in South African is apparent and despite the fact that these surveys indicate that most South Africans know about transplantation, the majority of citizens do not have adequate knowledge to make an informed decision about organ donation.
Addressing the media, Professor Kalula says that while he does not know the identity of his donor, the strength of her generosity amazes him.
Given the religious sensitivities around the issue, Kalula says organ donation transcends culture and religion.
Meanwhile, Dr Thaning said that despite the drop in heart transplants within South Africa, each heart transplant continues to be accompanied with excitement and intense emotion. He reiterated that donors are treated with “great respect” from the time the organ is removed.
“A lot of people are worried about the fact that if they are registered as donors that people are going to take less care of them if they injured. But that’s not the case, the people that are involved in transplantation are not the people who look after the donors before they become donors, it’s completely done in a professionally manner.”
“A lot of people are worried that they’ve registered as donors and now they are sitting and waiting. But that’s not the case.”
For more information on organ donation, members of the public can contact the Organ Donation Foundation on the toll free line: 0800 22 66 11.