Surgeon: Beliefs not a reason to not donate organs

Johannesburg - Religious and cultural beliefs should not be used as a reason not to donate organs, a specialist and transplant surgeon said on Friday.

"Every religion teaches that if you can help someone you should," Dr Anna Sparaco said at the Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg.

She was part of a panel of medical experts, patients, and media at an Organ Donor Foundation briefing.
Sparaco said some religions did not permit members to donate their organs.

"We are engaging with the Council of Traditional Healers on the issue," she said.

"We want a marriage of traditional medicine with western medicine."

Transplant options

Sparaco said there were many public misconceptions about organ donations, but insisted that the dignity and respect of donors and patients was always upheld.

This was particularly the case with cadaveric transplants, where organs were donated from people whose brain had suffered irreversible damage.

Sparaco said even when people donated their organs when they were still living it would be "as simple as any other operation".

Organ donation was a very involved, well thought through process.

"There are transplant co-ordinators, who are usually intensive care unit (ICU) trained nurses, who manage the family of the patient, the donor and their families.

The co-ordinators also educated hospitals and made them aware that transplants were an option.

"There is also a multi-disciplinary team involved in the entire process," said Sparaco.

4 300 awaiting transplants in SA

This included surgeons, dieticians, and psychologists, among others.

The foundation's executive director Samantha Volschenk also stressed the need for organ donations because of the critical shortage of donors in South Africa.

"Many, many people die waiting for a transplant," Volschenk said.

"There are currently 4 300 adults and children awaiting transplants, with less than 600 transplants being performed a year," said Volschenk.

Kidneys were most in demand, while other organs in demand included livers, hearts, and lungs.

Volschenk said organ donation in the country remained stagnant, despite growing awareness on social media networks.

"In the last 24 months there has been an 80 to 90% growth in our social media and internet campaigns," said Volschenk.

Awareness campaigns

The foundation also had a toll-free hotline, website, and information brochure they distributed at awareness campaigns.

The foundation was not directly involved in medical procedures and processes, but focused on awareness of the shortage of organ donors.

"We are involved in all types of awareness campaigns relating to organ transplant including media interviews, talks at schools and seminars," said Volschenk.

Volschenk said the foundation lacked resources and skills needed to execute their campaigns as they were a non-governmental organisation.

"We lack the resources to convert potential donors to actual donors," she said.

She also appealed to the public to donate funds or their time at awareness campaigns.