Pandemic shrinks SA organ donor pool; 5,000 lives threatened

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:

Experts are warning that close to 5,000 South Africans – adults and children – could die if they don’t get the vital organ transplants that the pandemic has denied them, says a Saturday Star report. The reasons are two-fold: coronavirus has temporarily halted all transplants, but the donor pool is shrinking too – because of the prohibition of alcohol sales that had been in place until Tuesday of last week.

The report says road accidents are the main source of organs for transplant operations, with alcohol being a contributing factor in 27.1% of all fatal crashes in South Africa according to a survey conducted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation, the South African Medical Research Council and the University of South Africa last year.

Neither the director of the Organ Donor Foundation, Samantha Nichols, nor the director of the South African Transplant Society, Dr David Thompson, would be drawn on the link with alcohol. But, the report says, in September government appointed Professor Rafique Moosa as the new chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Organ Transplantation, who said doctors should be referring more potential donors.

“If one looks at the total number of motor vehicle accidents (251 deaths per million population), there should be more than enough donors to supply the needs of the country.”

South Africa still struggles to find enough organ donors, he said. “The number of transplants has remained relatively static for the past 10 years or so,” said Moosa, who is the executive head of the department of medicine at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital. “For example, the number of kidney transplants in South Africa vary between just 400 and 450 a year. We have been trying to understand why the number of donors has not increased.”

Thompson said the donor pool has definitely dropped. “Ideally, we should at least have half of the population as donors.”

South Africa’s population is estimated to have increased to just under 60-million people last year, but the country only has 342 624 registered organ donors. Prior to the pandemic, South African hospitals would have performed around 360 transplants per year. Last year that number was halved.

“Many centres decided to not perform transplants at the start of the pandemic in March 2020,” said Nichols. “South Africa is not unique but we are worse-affected,” she said.

Full Saturday Star report (Open access)

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