Research by the Organ Donor Foundation has revealed there are currently 4 300 people in South Africa who require organs, yet only 800 of these patients will receive donations this year. As a result, it is crucial that new initiatives, including the recent option on Facebook allowing US and UK citizens to register as donors via the social networking site, are rolled out to other regions such as South Africa.
Facebook announced that 100 000 users signed up to become organ donors within days of the announcement at the beginning of May 2012.
According to Graham Anderson, Principal Officer at Profmed, the medical scheme that caters exclusively for graduate professionals, it is crucial that more people register to become organ donors in South Africa; but that those patients who elect to have this surgery are fully aware of the implications.
“While organ transplantations are covered by a medical scheme as it is a prescribed minimum benefit (PMB), the biggest obstacle is often finding a suitable match. However, sometimes there may also be certain exclusions depending on factors such as the patient’s current status of health.”
Severe shortage of suitable donors
He says that if the patient already has a number of co-morbidities – a condition that coexists with a primary disease – then it may be deemed too dangerous to proceed with a transplant.
“An organ transplant is major surgery and often involves a very long period of recovery. Patients who receive a new organ are also required to take lifelong medication to prevent rejection of the organ, which compromises the immune system. The patient cannot stop taking this medicine, so for the rest of their lives they need to avoid crowds where they could catch colds and must lead a healthier lifestyle including eating well and keeping fit.”
Anderson says that while no one should be excluded from having an organ transplant, with a severe shortage of suitable organs available, a decision has to be made as to who will benefit the most from such an operation. “All suitable patients in need of an organ should have the right to surgery but with such a shortage it is important that patients with the best chance of success, or who demonstrate a commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle post surgery, are first on the list.”
“Medical schemes are always led by the advice of clinicians as to whether a member should proceed with an organ transplant, so if a scheme decides that a patient is not fit for surgery this will be based on medical advice. A patient who undergoes such major surgery and is not medically fit to receive the organ also places themselves at risk of even greater complications.”
Anderson says the Organ Donor Foundation has done a great deal of work to promote organ donation among South Africans but says there are still huge challenges. “There are still a lot of cultural issues in South Africa, with certain groups not believing in organ donations. In addition, many people also have preconceived notions of what organ donation involves. It is very important that such misconceptions are dealt with and that the process is made easier for people to register as donors.”
“In certain European countries, legislation has been passed resulting in all citizens are automatically organ donors unless they choose to opt out. Unfortunately, this may not be a viable solution in South Africa, as the constitution may not allow for it. However, we need to have some kind of concerted effort to encourage people to become donors, whether that is encouraging citizens to sign up via new technology platforms or promoting the importance of organ donation in schools and workplaces.”
(Press release, June 2012)
FAQ about organ donation in SA