Organ harvesting and organ donation are worlds apart

Organ harvesting and organ donation are worlds apart. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via Reuters

Organ harvesting and organ donation are worlds apart. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via Reuters

Published Dec 15, 2023


The Department of Health says it has no records of recent incidents of illegal organ harvesting in the country.

However, according to Act, organ trafficking, also known as organ harvesting or transplant tourism, is a common occurrence in north and west Africa.

In South Africa, Affinity Health says the legal aspect of organ donation is widely welcomed by medical practitioners due to the shortage of people willing to donate their parts to those who are desperate to procure these life-changing body specimens.

This aspect of legally donating one’s body part while alive or dead is regulated under the Human Tissue Act of 1983.

This legal framework for organ transplantation in South Africa sets out the rules and regulations governing the removal, storage, and transplantation of human organs and tissues.

The SATs Organ Transplant Five Year Activity report for 2012 to 2017 shows that organ donation and transplantation activity in South Africa is alarmingly low and became even worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Improved data collection in alignment with health-care delivery as stipulated by the National Health Act is needed by and from each province to ensure that donation and transplantation activity are consistently measured,” SATs said.

Foster Mohale, of the Department of Health, said the department does not condone the illegal transplantation of human organs as those found to be doing this are prosecuted.

“There are no incidents of illegal procurement or no consenting, it is illegal and persons can be prosecuted. In South Africa, we have control with regard to illegal procurement of organs; all hospitals and medical practitioners are regulated by laws. In recent years there have not been any. There was a case years ago in KZN,” he said.

This practice, which also includes illegal organ harvesting from a living or dead individual and the illegal sale and transplantation of human organs, also involves travelling to another country or territory in order to benefit from the stealing, selling and exploitation of body parts and other organs is said to be rife in Africa and Asia.

Information suggests a wide spectrum of actors are involved in organ trafficking in north and west Africa with connections to the medical sector in countries from Africa and beyond, notably in Asia and the Middle East.

A recent report on Independent Media showed that even though not much is known about the dark side of harvesting people’s body parts, there is enough evidence suggesting that organ trafficking is happening right underneath our noses.

This is due to a high demand for illicit body parts and relatively low rates of law enforcement.

In China this practice seems to be widely reported, with media reports suggesting that every day in China, hundreds of children from poor families disappear without trace.

In 2017, Independent Media reported that there was an incident in which pamphlets were distributed where people were directed to a place in Cape Town where those interested could get their hands on certain clinic body parts in a week's time.

Women’s Health said the Organ Donor Foundation indicated that a shortage of willing donors has an impact on the emergence of donors who operate in the black market.

“Since less than 2% of South Africa’s population is on the organ donor registry, people needing life-saving organs (the ODF estimates around 4 300 adults right now are waiting) are unlikely to receive their organs. The result? A burgeoning black market right on our doorstep, where you could score an organ at a very big cost,” it said.

According to Affinity Health, limited knowledge and taboos are some of the reasons why there is a low uptake on organ donation in the country.

"Limited knowledge and misconceptions about organ donation contribute to our country’s low donor registration rates. Cultural and religious beliefs may influence attitudes towards organ donation. Some communities may have reservations due to traditional practices or beliefs surrounding the body after death. Mistrust of the health-care system and concerns about the fair allocation of organs can also deter individuals from becoming organ donors.“

Saturday Star