By Gift Ndolwane
The irony about South Africa’s grave shortage of donated tissue is that while a majority will accept a life-saving organ at some point in their lives, a majority will not donate.
Such is the gravity of the shortage of tissue such as skin, bones, heart valves and tendons that the problem has been described as a national tragedy.
According to Statistics South Africa, on average, 110 people are added to an organ donor waiting list every day, while 21 people die daily while waiting for an organ.
It is against the backdrop of this calamity that the Tshwane University of Technology’s Centre for Tissue Engineering (CTE) was incepted and since 2016, it has saved many lives through the use of donor skin.
CTE has partnered with the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) in developing and launching the Uluntu project, which is aimed at educating learners, staff at clinics and hospitals as well as other relevant organisations about the need for organ and tissue donation.
"Almost 80 percent of South Africans will accept a lifesaving organ, but sadly 80 percent will not donate. The need for organs and tissue is becoming a national tragedy. Increasingly people are turned away at government hospitals," said Uluntu Project Director Bernice Blignaut.
Jooste Vermeulen, ODF Director of Communications, noted thousands of South Africans were also waiting for a life-saving organ transplants.
“It is worrying that one percent of the country’s population (out of 56 million) is registered to be organ donors,” said Vermuelen.
Vermeulen added that the Uluntu campaign, which resides in the principles of humanity, had a strong focus on bridging cultural barriers to donation.
South Africa, which is emerging from a chilly winter, desperately needs skin to be able to treat burns.
“We're coming into veld and shack fires season and that's always a critical time for South Africa,” Blignaut said.
The world average of deaths due to burns is 5 in 100,000. However, in
South Africa, that number is 8.5 in 100,000. While 1.6 million South
Africans suffer burn wounds a year and 268 severe cases are reported every month.
Cleo Ndhlovu, CTE Manager, said compared to the traditional treatment of burn wounds with bandages, a skin graft was more effective and can shorten a patient’s stay in hospital dramatically.
“The best part about skin is that the donor body never rejects it. Anyone can donate skin, the only prerequisite is that the skin must be retrieved within 12 hours of death,” Ndhlovu said.
Surveys by the campaign established that 80% of people were unsure about organ donation, as it contradicted their culture and customs.
“We have met people who use culture as their excuse not to donate. The fact is that skin donation saves lives and improves quality of life. It is time that we all become activists for burn victims, especially children,” Vermeulen noted.
During August, Eric Kevin Nefdt, Pretoria’s own Spiderman, better known as Spinnekop (the Afrikaans term), a proud organ donor, will attempt the Incredible Marathon-A-Day Superhero 1 500km to Create Awareness for organ donation.
He is attempting to run from Pretoria to Lüderitz, in southern Namibia, accompanied at various stages along the route by the Friends of Spinnekop.
The marathon-a-day adventure will be broken into some 40 days. Nefdt aims to set a world record for the furthest marathon run in a superhero costume.
“My mission is to be a hero. We aim to educate people on how easy it is to become an organ and tissue donor. Short clips of the journey’s highs and lows will be shared publicly, and will also feature ‘street’ interviews,”said Nefdt.
He is not new to marathons with a cause.
Nefdt, an estate agent, completed the 2017 Comrades Marathon in his Spidey suit to raise awareness for Heart Kids South Africa - after training for over a year in morning rush hour traffic dressed in the familiar superhero costume.
Andreas Botha, also from the capital city (Pretoria), is testament of the significance of donated tissue.
Born with a generic disease, called Alport Syndrome, he recalls how he had a few months to live, in 1998 while in his early 30s.
He benefitted from a kidney donation.
“Today, I am aged 50. I have a son (21), daughter (16) and my lovely wife. Without God's grace and the donor, my wife would have been a widow and my son fatherless at the age of three and my daughter would not have existed,” Botha said.
Willa de Ruyter, Tshwane University of Technology spokesperson, pledged the organisation’s commitment to tackle the shortage of donated tissue.
“Although there are no financial advantages to be gained through skin procurement and distribution, the CTE and Bone SA felt morally obliged to make a financial commitment and take on the challenge to help these ordinary South Africans,” De Ruyter said. – CAJ News