The continued shortage of human body donations for the purpose of medical research and training in South Africa is likely to have a significant impact on the quality of the training that medical students receive.

According to Graham Anderson, Principal Officer and CEO at Profmed, the medical scheme catering exclusively to graduate professionals, while the lack of available cadavers is a national issue, the University of KwaZulu-Natal is facing particular strain. “The University recently confirmed that the number of students allocated to each cadaver has risen from the curriculum’s recommended group of four, to as many as fourteen, which poses a number of limitations to both students and professors.

Anderson says a group of four students to a cadaver is considered best practice by the majority of South Africa’s tertiary institutions, such the Universities of Pretoria, Cape Town and Stellenbosch. “This steep rise in group numbers can severely limit the proper medical education of students, which clearly may have consequences for their academic results and skill levels.”

“This has not only raised concerns at the Department of Health but also within the medical tertiary community at large, due to the many risks and shortfalls associated with the possibility of sub-standard local medical tuition and research. It is critical that the public are aware of the seriousness of the situation if we are to aim to increase the number of donations.”

He says cadaver shortages are not uncommon in South Africa, which can be attributed to a number of factors. “Shortages in cadavers are often as a result of cultural and religious beliefs, which may condemn individuals who opt to donate their bodies to research. Even for those people do not have such restrictions, most are unaware of the acute shortage or do not understand how the donation process works.”

Anderson explains that any person who would wish to donate their body to medical research should simply include a statement to that effect in their living will.

“While the Department of Health has given permission to universities to utilise bodies that are not claimed within 30 days, offering some relief to research supply, it is also important to create more awareness and education around the importance of donating one’s body to science,” concludes Anderson.

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