South Africa needs to establish an independent body to manage organ donation, which is not associated with any hospital or private healthcare group, to ensure that the process remains fair and strict protocols are adhered to.

This is according to Graham Anderson, Principal Officer at Profmed, the medical scheme catering exclusively to graduate professionals, who says that in light of Organ Donor Month in August, the country must review the way the current process works. “An independent body that also involves the state would ensure that organ donation follows a fair process and that all individuals, regardless of income or location, have equal access to vital organs as required.”

He says such a body would be able to maintain and coordinate an independent list of patients who require organs to ensure that a private hospital or group does not supersede the process or fast track their own patients ahead of those who may be more in need. “This would require huge buy-in from the healthcare industry, including hospitals, physicians and medical schemes, however if successful, an independent coordinating body would provide a central point at which organs can be accessed.”

While certain organs such as lungs, kidneys and hearts, would need to be harvested and used immediately – other parts of the body such as retinas, skin and bones could then be stored and accessed at a later date as required.

“A nationwide independent institution could be funded in several ways, with the medical schemes actually funding the plant and the harvesting of the organs, while the unit itself would be funded by private hospitals. This would eliminate the need for them to house their own small units that can be costly and ineffective.”

Anderson notes that while the concept may evoke some resistance at first from private hospitals, if the state body was totally independent and all hospitals were comfortable with the way a national patient list was managed, it would ensure protocols would be adhered to.

Statistics from the Organ Donor Foundation show that the number of transplants is continuing to decline, with only 573 organ and cornea transplants taking place in South Africa in 2012 compared to 724 in 2009.

Anderson says pharmaceutical companies that sell anti-rejection medication for organ donor patients, could also be expected to contribute to the funding of the state body, as the drop in transplants taking place also impacts on their own profitability.

“The rate of organ transplantation in South Africa has dropped significantly over the last few decades and continues to decline. We need a radical overhaul of our system to ensure that more people are willing to donate their organs and that if they do, it is going to the right person,” concludes Anderson.

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