At any given time, there are around 4,300 people waiting for organ donations in South Africa. These patients usually need new livers, kidneys, lungs or hearts. But organ donors are in very short supply.
This isn’t unique to South Africa. Many countries around the world are unable to meet the demand for donor organs. There are a few exceptions, though. One example is Norway, where a surplus of deceased donor livers has been reported.
So what explains South Africa’s organ donor shortage?
Religious and cultural beliefs play a role, because they influence the decisions people make about the remains of their loved ones. Sometimes families prefer that a relative’s body remain whole and intact; in other cases it’s considered important to bury a person within a certain time frame. But attributing the shortages to these factors alone grossly oversimplifies the issue, as research has shown.
There are many complex elements that keep donor num