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Organ donor? Tell your tribe!

- Wits University

The world-first living donor liver transplant by the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre on 4 October got the world talking about transplants.

Now TELL (Transplant Education for Living Legacies) encourages conversations about organ donation.

Bonnie Venter is a lecturer and head of the Health Law Unit in the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits. She has spent close to a decade conducting legal research on organ donation and transplantation.

Venter co-founded TELL on 16 October with Fawn Rogers and Alice Vogt – both of whom received life-saving lung transplants. Vogt was the first South African to receive a second double lung transplant.

L_R TELL founders Bonnie Venter, Fawn Rogers and Alice Vogt on far right with Dr Paul Williams

TELL is a non-profit organisation that helps educate South Africans about organ and tissue donation. TELL believes that the most important part of improving the organ donation environment is conversation. TELL aims to destigmatize organ and tissue donation – and the misinformation around it – by educating potential donors and medical healthcare professionals.

“TELL encourages potential and existing organ donor to tell their tribe of their wish to donate. Our mission is to end the waiting list [of people waiting for life-saving organs] by changing and leading the conversation around organ and tissue donation in South Africa,” says Venter.

Several factor contribute to the lack of available organs in South Africa: 

  • Inability to identify and refer potential donors timeously due to a shortage of organs
  • Insufficient education and awareness on organ donation
  • Gaps in the legislative framework and insufficient implementation of legislation
  • Limited accurate and consistent national statistics on donation and transplantation
  • Resistance from the next-of-kin to consent to organ and tissue donation

"South Africa is experiencing an acute shortage of availability of donor organs. Organisations such as TELL, which provide education and awareness on organ and tissue donation, play an extremely important role in positively improving the situation,” says Prof. Ames Dhai, Director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits.

Support from Wits organ donation and transplantation academics

Prof. Jean Botha, transplant surgeon at Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre with Madimo Mimo Mokgosi, a liver recipient at the launch of TELL

“TELL has received an abundance of support and input from Wits University’s academics and experts involved in organ donation and transplantation,” says Venter, who along with Rogers and Vogt continues their involvement in an initiative to educate transplant coordinators and nursing staff on organ and tissue donation. 

Present at the launch were nephrologist and Wits lecturer, Dr. Shoyab Wadee, who was the guest speaker, and Wits professor of internal medicine, Jean Botha from the Transplant Unit of the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre who in October performed the world’s first HIV+ living liver transplant to an HIV negative recipient.

Wits Professor of paediatric surgery, Jerome Loveland, and surgeon and Wits lecturer, Dr. Markus Schamm supported TELL by taking part in being filmed for a documentary currently in development. 

About Bonnie Venter

Bonnie Venter is currently the Head of the Health Law Unit Head and a Lecturer in the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, in the School of Clinical Medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits. , Health Sciences Faculty, University of Witwatersrand. She holds an LLB from North West University where was a member of the International Golden Key Honour Society. Her dissertation for her LLM, awarded in 2012, was entitled: A Selection of Constitutional Perspectives on Human Kidney Sales. She was admitted as an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa the same year. Venter has published in peer-reviewed and accredited journals including Obiter and De Jure on the topic of the legislative gaps in organ donation, international comparative studies, routine referral, and paediatric access to renal dialysis. She is has been quoted in several news articles and interviewed on radio and television discussing the legislative aspects of organ donation and transplantation. She is an avid organ transplantation activist, co-founder of Transplant Education for Living Legacies (TELL), for which she manages the legal affairs. She has worked with other key players in the field including the Medical Professionals, South African Transplant Services and the Organ Donor Foundation. She intends to continue her research on improving the current organ shortage on a global level by pursuing a PhD.