South Africa has a dire need for kidney donors. We speak to Jooste Vermeulen, the Organ Donor Foundation’s director of communications, about the process of donating a kidney to someone in need.

‘In South Africa at any given moment, there are about 2 500 people waiting for a life-saving organ or tissue transplant,’ says Jooste. ‘That number does not reflect the true picture, however. The true picture is that we only have a certain amount of life support, such as dialysis, available in the country. While people are waiting for kidneys, these support systems are overloaded,’ he adds.

In South Africa, in many cases as a result of lifestyle diseases, renal failure is an increasing problem and the need for kidney transplants is huge. Live organ or kidney donations could therefore offer hope to people with renal failure. 

How live kidney donations work 

Live donations do occur in South Africa, but only among family members, and are usually for kidneys or part of a liver. For example, a mother will give a sick daughter one of her kidneys after a suitability test is performed. Fortunately, the side effects for kidney donors are minimal, says Jooste. ‘I’m a kidney donor myself. I gave a kidney to my child in 2007 and I haven’t experienced significant health problems after the donation’. 

Can I donate a kidney to someone not related to me? 

‘Altruistic live donations, or donations from a stranger, are unfortunately not advised in South Africa yet,’ says Jooste. ‘The challenge is that these live donations require a lot of social support for the donor after he or she has given a kidney. In South Africa we currently don’t have the infrastructure in place to provide such support.’ 

Statistics on live donations 

The figures of how many live donations are performed among family members in South Africa are not publically available. The statistics are divided between many different hospitals across both the public and private sectors, so Jooste explains that there aren’t clear numbers of how many live donations take place annually. 

More men needed on the system 

Even though strangers can’t help with live kidney donations, they can sign up to become donors in the event of their death, or simply inform their next of kin. ‘From the Organ Donation Foundation’s statistics, we know that 80% of registered organ donors are women,’ says Jooste. ‘Yet, because of generally having less healthy lifestyles than women, more men will end up needing a kidney donor.

We must keep asking men this question: If you are going to need a kidney, will you take it?’ For more information on signing up, read more here.