At any given time, there are about 4,300 people waiting for organ donations in SA. These patients usually need new livers, kidneys, lungs or hearts. But organ donors are in very short supply.

This is not unique to SA. Many countries are unable to meet the demand for donor organs. There are a few exceptions, though. One example is Norway, where a surplus of deceased donor livers has been reported.

So what explains SA’s organ donor shortage?

Religious and cultural beliefs play a role, because they influence the decisions people make about the remains of their loved ones. Sometimes families prefer that a relative’s body remain whole and intact; in other cases it’s considered important to bury a person within a certain time frame. But attributing the shortages to these factors alone grossly oversimplifies the issue, as research has shown. There are many complex elements that keep donor numbers low. These permeate the social fabric from a population and legislation level down to the practice of healthcare workers in hospitals. It’s important to tackle each of these elements to ease the country’s organ donor shortage. Public perception At a societal level, religious and socio-cultural practices do play a role in the shortage of donor organs, but in my extensive research into the factors influencing low donor numbers, other issues have come to the fore. These include a suspicion of the biomedical system in SA. Sometimes ther...

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