UKZN students face a dearth of cadavers

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A dearth of the dead is leaving medical students in KwaZulu-Natal struggling to complete their studies, forced to share bodies during dissection classes. The Times reports that so bad is the situation that anatomy lessons at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) have been compromised, with up to 15 students having to share a single body. Normally it is four students to a cadaver. A fall in donations of bodies has led to the shortage, which academics blame on cultural and religious beliefs.

But the universities of Pretoria, Stellenbosch and Cape Town, which also rely on people donating their bodies, have an ample supply of corpses. At these universities the ratio of students per cadaver is four to one. UCT anatomy professor Graham Louw said: “People who donate their body to us are traditionally white. It’s not part of the belief system of other cultures to make such donations.” He said the Health Department gave the university permission to use the bodies of paupers, the homeless and prisoners prior to cremation.

In contrast, the UKZN’s anatomy department says its students have no bodies to work on. Mohamed Haffajee, a retired professor of anatomy, said that until 1999, UKZN relied on unclaimed bodies from state mortuaries for research. “Now the university has to make do with the few it receives from public donors.” He said that, previously, if bodies at hospitals or mortuaries were not claimed within a month, they were donated to the university but now the minimum time in which to track down relatives had been extended. Haffajee said there had been little effort by the provincial health department and the university’s management to arrest the deterioration of the situation. It had recently been decided to increase the use of computer simulations in the teaching of anatomy at UKZN.

Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said the department had not received complaints from medical schools about the shortage of cadavers.

Full report in The Times

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