Scarcity in skin donors can cost lives

02 August 2018

At the start of Organ and Tissue donor month, the country faces a serious shortage of skin to treat burn victims. In a drive to create public awareness about the importance of Organ and Tissue donation, especially skin donation, the Tshwane University of Technology’s Centre for Tissue Engineering (CTE), in collaboration with the organ Donor Foundation (ODF) and National Press Club, hosted a media briefing on 1 August. 

“Spinnekop” Eric Kevin Nefdt, Jooste Vermeulen, Director of Communication at ODF and Cleo Ndhlovu, CTE Manager, addressing members of the media.

Cleo Ndhlovu, CTE Manager, cited figures by Statistic SA according to which many people die while on an organ donor waiting list. On average, 110 people are added to an organ donor waiting list every day, while 21 people die daily while waiting for an organ. 

Since the inception of the skin banking activities of the Tshwane University of Technology’s Centre for Tissue Engineering (CTE) in 2016, many lives have been saved through the use of donor skin. The world average of deaths due to burns is 5 in 100 000; however, in South Africa that number is 8.5 in 100 000. While 1.6 million South Africans suffer burn wounds a year, 268 severe cases are reported every month.

Jooste Vermeulen, Director of Communication at the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF), added that thousands of South African’s are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplants. ”It is worrying that one percent of the country’s population is registered to be organ donors,” he said.

The Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) partnered with the CTE in developing and launching the ULUNTU project, aimed at educating learners, staff at clinics and hospitals as well as other relevant organisations about the need for organ and tissue donation. 

Vermeulen added that the campaign, which resides in the principles of Ubuntu, has a strong focus on bridging cultural barriers to donation.  “80% of people we surveyed, were not sure about organ donation as it contradict their culture and customs. We have met people who use culture as their excuse not to donate. The fact is that skin donation saves lives and improves quality of life. It is time that we all become activists for burn victims, especially children,” he said.

Ndhlovu appealed to the journalists and media houses at the briefing to spread the word in order to help those in need of skin tissue. “Skin donation saves lives. Compared to the traditional treatment of burn wounds with bandages, a skin graft is much more effective and can shorten the patient’s stay in hospital dramatically. The best part about skin is that the donor body never rejects it. Anyone can donate skin, the only prerequisite is that the skin must be retrieved within 12 hours of death.”

Responding to a question, she said the need for skin usually increases in winter because of the increased possibility of veld and shack fires.

She added that although it is not common for living people to donate their skin, the procedure could be done in cases of extreme emergency. “Organ and tissue donation is not a difficult topic to discuss, but it is more difficult to convince people to make the decision,” Ndhlovu concluded.

Adding fun to the event was Pretoria’s own Spiderman, better known as Spinnekop (the Afrikaans term) Eric Kevin Nefdt: Estate Agent, Family Man, aspiring Adventurer and Proud Organ Donor. 

During August 2018, Spinnekop, who is endorsed by the ODF, will attempt to run from Pretoria to Lüderitz, in southern Namibia, accompanied at various stages along the route by the Friends of Spinnekop. The Incredible Marathon-A-Day Superhero will complete 1500km to Create Awareness for Organ Donation.

Apart from organs and skin, one can also donate corneas, bone and heart valves. To register as organ and tissue donors go to or or call the toll free number at: 0800 22 66 11. 

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Willa de Ruyter, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
Tel: +27 12 382 5352   Email: