13/10/2017 14:44 SAST | Updated 13/10/2017 15:55 SAST

9 Important Things To Know About Organ Donation In SA

One organ donor can help save the lives of up to seven people.

There is greater need for organs than there are organ donors in South Africa.

A 2017 survey by the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) found that 71 percent of South Africans were not willing to donate, yet 78 percent would accept donated organs.

It is estimated that less than 0.2 percent of South Africans are organ donors.

Here are the top nine things to know about the process of organ donation:

1. Anyone can sign up to be an organ donor

If you're in good health and do not suffer from a chronic illness that could adversely affect the recipient, you can become a donor. The process is simple.

  • Register online at or call the Organ Donor Foundation's toll-free number on 0800 22 66 11.
  • The foundation will send you an organ donor card to fill in that you should keep in your purse or wallet.
  • You'll also get stickers for your ID document and driver's licence to indicate that you are an organ donor.

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2. It is completely free

The process costs absolutely nothing. The hospital and/or tissue bank are required by law to cover all medical expenses.

You won't be paid for your organs, the idea is that giving the gift of life is reward enough.

ODF executive director Samantha Nicholls says donating organs and tissue is the best "gift and legacy you can leave".

Having a medical condition does not necessarily exclude you from becoming an organ donor, the decision about which of your organs is viable for transplant is made at the time of death. Medical tests are carried out to ensure your organs are suitable for donation.

3. It is crucial to tell your family, should you decide to be an organ donor

"Please discuss the decision as, ultimately, your family will be approached for consent at the time of your passing," advises Nicholls.

Nicholls told HuffPost SA that they've found that no culture or religion is against organ donation. "We find that people are not educated enough on the subject and simply use religion or culture as a reason to not sign up."

4. You do not need to donate all your organs

You can state which organs you wish to donate by indicating your preference on your donor card. This decision will be respected.

Again, you should inform your family about which organs you'd like to donate and which ones you'd prefer not to donate.

5. The most sought-after organ is the kidney

"All organs and tissue are needed, but the organ with the longest waiting list is the kidney," says Nicholls, adding that an increase in lifestyle diseases has led to more patients requiring kidney transplants.

You could save seven lives altogether: donating your heart, liver and pancreas can save three lives, while your kidneys and lungs can help up to four people. And donating your corneas, skin, bone, tendons and heart valves can help up to 50 people.

6. There is a long waiting list for recipients

While it varies for each organ and tissue type, as well as other factors, patients can wait years before they receive a potentially life-saving transplant.

"You could wait weeks, months or years depending on the supply and suitable matches," said Nicholls.

While patients can be assisted with dialysis while waiting for a kidney, she says there are limited facilities in the state sector for dialysis treatment, which leads to some patients dying while waiting for a transplant.

"There are 8,000 patients on dialysis in the country, but we have been told by a physician that there should be 50,000 patients on dialysis," says Nicholls.

7. There is a difference between organ and tissue donation

An organ transplant takes place after the donor has been declared brain dead, but while they are still on a respirator. This gives the medical staff hours or even days to retrieve the organs.

The recipient receives the donated organ shortly after it has been retrieved from the donor, but tissue is usually stored in a tissue bank to be used as and when needed.

Bone tissue transplants are the second most common transplants performed on patients, second only to blood transfusions.

8. The donor-recipient relationship is private

For privacy and legislative reasons, donors and recipients are not identified.

9. You can change your mind if you no longer wish to be an organ donor

The decision is not binding. You can simply tear up your organ donor card and remove the sticker from your ID document and driver's licence.

The ODF advises that if you do change your mind, you let your family know that you no longer wish to be an organ donor.

READ: A Day In The Life Of Someone Waiting For A Double Lung Transplant