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Cultural reasons hamper skin donation drive

According to the Medical Research Council, children under the age of three years are particularly at risk of burns. (File Photo)
Written by Ramatamo Sehoai

South Africa has a dire shortage of skin to treat burn victims and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Centre for Tissue Engineering and the Organ Donor Foundation have issued an urgent plea for more people to become skin and organ donors.

TUT’s Sandra Venter said cultural reasons and a lack of information played a role in people’s reluctance to donate.

“Organ and tissue donation is very important. It can saves lives. Every person in South Africa could make a difference, and we appeal to the public to make a decision in favour of donation after their own death. We want the whole population to play their part as accidents can happen to anyone,” she said.

Skin, which is harvested when a person dies, ensures the burn wounds heal quickly.  

The organisations plan to embark on a series of community and media engagements to raise the importance of skin and organ donation.  

Treatment success

Dr Roux Martinez of the Red Cross War Memorial Hospital gave an overview of the overwhelming success in the use of donor skin in the treatment of burn victims. She said since the inception of the skin banking activities of the Centre for Tissue Engineering in 2016, many lives have been saved through the use of donor skin. She said 48 patients who suffered an average of 60% burns over their bodies had been successfully treated.

Skin donation not only saves lives, but it also shortens a patient’s stay in hospital.

The university said that every winter, people – especially children – were burnt in shack fires and veld fires in rural areas. Many of the burn victims died – not only because of the severity of the burns but because there were no effective, affordable synthetic treatment options available in state hospitals.

Robert Mulaudzi, the spokesperson for Johannesburg’s Emergency Management Services, said during the peak of winter, they had attended to 150 fires and encountered five fatalities. These fires occurred in informal settlements and most were caused by inferior heating appliances such as paraffin stoves, candles, imbaula stoves, unattended heaters and illegal electricity connections.   

“We would like to encourage our residents to consider skin donation,” he said.

For more information on becoming a skin donor visit the Organ Donor Foundation’s website –

An edited version of this story was published by IOL.

About the author

Ramatamo Sehoai

Ramatamo Sehoai is an award-winning community journalist from Alexandra Township who curved his health journalism at FrayIntermedia and Mail & Guardian. He has written for numerous publications as a freelancer and won fellowships. Ramatamo is one of our Gauteng based citizen journalists and hosts a weekly talk show at Alex FM. He is also studying towards a BA Honours in Journalism and Media studies at Wits University.