Why organ transplants matter more than ever

Posted on 16 September 2020

Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre is the only Mediclinic hospital to provide much-needed organ transplants – and its innovative Transplant Unit needs your help.

South Africa suffers from a chronic shortage of organ donors. While fewer than 1% of people in the country are registered to donate one or more of their organs after death, there are more than 4 000 patients in urgent need of organ and corneal transplants.

Another shocking statistic: between 10 and 15% of patients will die each year while waiting for a transplant.

Why? Historically low consent rates can, in many cases, be attributed to a lack of information and awareness, says Carla Wilmans, Transplant Service Line Director: Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre. ‘When we approach the families of deceased potential donors, we find there are a lot of persistent myths and fears around the process and benefits. The result is that we regularly do not receive the organs we need to meet the needs of the patients on our waiting list.’

Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre has established itself as a leading centre in liver and kidney transplantation and is the only one of its kind performing living donor liver transplantation in southern Africa.

The hospital regularly empowers doctors to provide educational talks at a catchment area of referral hospitals, speaking directly to patients’ families in an effort to raise awareness of the pressing need for donated organs. Last year, the Wits Transplant Procurement Model saw promising preliminary results, reporting a marked increase in the rate of consent.

But more is needed, says Wilmans. When a patient passes away, they may possess a range of healthy organs – including kidneys, lungs and the liver – that could potentially save seven lives. ‘We approach the families of deceased potential donors in an empathetic, informative way. They are in control of the process and can stipulate which of the viable organs or tissue we may use.’

Who needs organs, and which ones? ‘Kidney and liver donations can save the most lives,’ says Wilmans. ‘In children, for example, kids with biliary atresia who don’t receive a liver transplant will face a mortality risk of 100%. And in adults, there are a high number of prevalent conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, which could lead to someone requiring a kidney transplant.’

The longer these patients wait for a transplant, the further their health will deteriorate. ‘This is tragically unnecessary,’ Wilmans explains. ‘Anyone in good health who is clear of defined chronic diseases that might adversely affect the recipient will be considered as a possible donor. So the onus is really on doctors to speak to their patients, and help educate their families about how they could make a decision that saves multiple lives.”

While organs are donated by both living donors and by the families of those who have deceased, organs are never bought. The agreement to donate is never a business transaction, Wilman explains, but a public service to the community.

Anyone interested in the work done by Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre’s Transplant Unit can download the Wits Transplant Procurement Handbook: a Practical Guide to Organ Donor Procurement here. You may also contact the unit directly on 011 356 6488 to find out more.

Published in Innovation