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Organ donations, transplants stifled by COVID-19

Organ donations, transplants brought to a halt during COVID-19 pandemic.
Written by Sandile Mbili

South Africans are urged to become organ donors and give someone the gift of life, as COVID-19 continues to severely impact organ donations and transplant activity.

As the country marks National Organ Donor Awareness Month in August, the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) is highlighting the difficulties faced during the ongoing pandemic.

In an interview with Health-e News, Julie Purkis – Public Relations Liasion Officer at (ODF) – urged South Africans to register for organ donation as it is the right thing to do to give someone the gift of life.

She added that anyone can register as an organ donor, even if they are living with a chronic disease.

“A person’s health is not a constant and, therefore, anyone can register as an organ donor, as the test to determine whether the organs are suitable for donation are carried out at the time of death. A minor can also register as a donor, provided they have a valid ID number and that consent has been received from a parents or legal guardian.”

According to the ODF, the overall decease in donor transplants since the COVID-19 outbreak was 90.6% in France and 51.1% in the USA.  The exact numbers are yet to be verified for South Africa, but it is expected that the pandemic has impacted transplantation and organ donation more severely in developing countries. COVID-19 has also introduced challenges for potential donor referrals and obtaining consent from family members.

50% of transplants stopped

ODF says that while there is still capacity for transplant services in South Africa, it has been significantly limited (by about 50%) by a lack of donor referrals, while organ donation has also become extremely difficult.

“Both live and deceased donor transplantations have been severely affected, creating a compounded negative outcome for patients needing urgent transplants who will die if not immediately helped,” said Purkis.

The ODF’s awarness programme, called Uluntu Project, sees field officers educate and inform vulnerable and low resourced communities about organ and tissue donation.

“This is done by engaging with patients visiting healthcare clinics, state hospitals and during life orientation lessons at senior secondary schools. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this successful project had to be put on hold,” she said.

However, individuals who want to register as organ donors can still do so by registering on ODF’s website. After registering, donors receive a plastic personalised donor card that displayed their details plus stickers that can be displayed on their ID, Drivers licence, as well as medical aid card, which will and can be a proof that the individual is a registered organ donor, even after death.

Donating is easy

Should a family wish to donate their loved ones’ organs after they’ve passed on, they can contact ODF on a toll free line: 0800 22 66 11 during office hours, or contact the emergency line: 082 318 4376 after hours.

“The ODF will obtain the necessary details from the family and then pass them onto the nearest transplant centre and tissue bank which will make contact with the family,” explained Purkis.

ODF has shared some of the impacts that Covid-19 has had on transplants:

  • Many life-saving donations were paused.
  • The transplant waiting list has lengthened dramatically.
  • A registered donor, who dies of Covid-19, cannot have their organs used if they were actively infected at the time of death.
  • Covid-19 has also impacted the number of ICU beds available for post-transplant patient recovery.
  • Hospitals have redirected all their resources to COVID-19 wards, resulting in the suspension of elective surgeries, which also affects tissue donation.

Purkis said: “It is our collective responsibility to mobilise South Africans to urgently register as organ and tissue donors. More registrations equal more lives being saved and more lives being improved. Moreover, it is easy to register as an organ and tissue donor, simply visit our website www.odf.org.za and save a life today.” – Health-e News

About the author

Sandile Mbili

Sandile Mbili is an award-winning CJ based in KwaZulu Natal and has been freelancing since 2010. As a creative writer has contributed to Radio Khwezi drama department for 6 years and also wrote articles for Inkazimulo Newspaper and Daily Sun. Sandile has a Diploma in Comprehensive Writing from College SA and has completed an online course with Frety Media for Press Code. To date, he has produced 10 radio dramas and won two awards for Best Radio Drama on MTN Radio Awards 2015 and Best Educational Magazine Show at MDDA-Sanlam Media Awards 2015.