Cultural beliefs discourage organ donors

Author: Zizo Zikali

Source: Health e-News

While thousands of South Africans are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplants, it remains a difficult task to convince rural black communities to donate organs because of their cultural beliefs.

According to recent statistics published by the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa, 0.2 % of South Africans are registered to donate organs while more than 4300 people are waiting to receive organs.

Thembelihle Ggogqoni (65), an elderly community member and also a traditional healer, says it is against black culture to remove the organs of a deceased person as it is believed their spirit continues to roam and will not be accepted by ancestors.

“As a traditional healer I have a strong belief in the existence of ancestors and I directly communicate with them. If I die and have missing organs I will not be accepted by my ancestors. The body of the deceased has to be treated with respect,” he said.

“At times we hear that some families donate the whole human body to be used for studies. However, that contradicts our cultural beliefs. Families should consult the dead in their graves when a need arises,” he said.

“As traditional healers we condemn the acts of witchcraft done by bogus traditional healers who use body parts claiming that they heal”.

Public education

Samantha Nicholls, CEO of the Organ Donor Foundation, said the organisation is keen to increase their registered donors in the Eastern Cape province.

“We will be conducting a volunteer program next year where we encourage the public to come for training and they will be taught to educate and encourage the communities regarding organ donation.  We launched the ULUNTU Project at the end of 2016 which focuses on education graphics levels for rural and township communities.  We plan to conduct research surveys in the province as we have only conducted them in the bigger cities previously. Our volunteers will visit healthcare facilities educating people about organ donation,” Nicholls said.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape’s Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) Chief Zanemvula Nonkonyana says organisations such as Organ Donor Foundation should work closely with traditional leaders in order to gain access to communities.

“Concerned parties should engage in talks to convince our people of the need for organ donations to save lives. If they try to directly communicate with people, especially in rural areas, they will not succeed in their endeavours. The foundation needs to send its representatives to traditional councils to convey their messages through traditional leadership.”

Vukile Genu (54) of Bityi Village in Umtata was diagnosed with acute renal failure in 1973 and he had both of his kidneys removed.  Genu has been living with a donated organ for more 35 years and is the oldest person living with a donated kidney in Africa.

“I urge our communities to think about the people like myself who would like to be given a second chance in life because of donated organs.  I, myself am a rural man who believes in ancestors. However, I doubt that my ancestors could punish me for doing well by saving a soul. I am pleading with my fellow South Africans to please donate their organs and those of their deceased family members. I am happy to be granted another chance to live. I am a married educator with five children living a normal life thanks to the anonymous person who donated a kidney for me.”

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.