The Organ Donor Foundation said on Tuesday that the rise in lifestyle diseases in South Africa has led to an increased demand for organ donations.
"There’s a dire need for organ donation in this country. The country’s more affluent people are getting non-communicable, lifestyle diseases, which means an increased number of people are ending up with kidney diseases," nephrologist, Dr Fikile Tsela told reporters.
In addition, illnesses such as diabetes and HIV/Aids have led to an increase in renal diseases.
She urged the public to make lifestyle changes and to enrol as organ donors.
Sandra Venter, of the Centre for Tissue Engineering, said tissues such as the cornea, bones, skin and heart valves could also be donated.
"There’s nothing that can replace human tissues – no artificial product can do for a patient what human tissue can do," she said.
"There’s a desperate need for tissue donors, specifically in the Pretoria, Mpumalanga and [Polokwane] areas."
Earlier, the ODF’s Jooste Vermeulen, said that there is an escalating crisis and the country urgently needs referrals to address the potentially devastating problem.
Vermeulen said the foundation launched the "Say yes" awareness campaign during organ donor month. The campaign was twofold.
Donor families had to be informed of their decision so they could "say yes" on behalf of the donor.
The second aspect of the campaign was to educate medical professionals.
"We ask doctors to say yes to organ referrals. Many organ referrals are lost in ICU," Vermeulen said.
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Brian Lombard, 67, an ODF volunteer, said he had received a lung transplant in 2007.
"If the donor’s family hadn't said ‘yes’, I wouldn’t have made it."
On list for five years
Lombard, who suffered from emphysema, had 19 percent lung function by the time he received the transplant.
He said that before the transplant, breathing felt like "having a peg on your nose and breathing through a straw while you walk around".
Casper Walkers, 66, was on the waiting list to receive a kidney.
"I’ve been on the list for five years," he said.
Walkers has polycystic kidney disease and only has one kidney, with limited function. He has had to give up playing golf and his job as a police officer. He undergoes dialysis three times a week.
Over 4300 South Africans are awaiting an organ transplant. However, less than 600 transplants are performed each year.
One person could save seven lives by donating their heart, lungs, two kidneys, the liver, and pancreas.
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Image: Transporting donor organs from Shutterstock