Facebook can save lives

FOURTY- EIGHT hours after Facebook launched an organ donor application, 100 000 users on the social media site made their desire to become official donors.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that an organ donor status is now available for users who wish to indicate their decision to family and friends and, more importantly, the official registries in their state or county.

Zuckerberg said in a speech to launch the donor status that he was inspired by conversations he had with his girlfriend about children waiting for organ donations.

He also mentioned his friendship with late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Jobs’ public battle with cancer ended last year, however a liver transplant in 2009 helped Jobs fight his cancer for a few more years.

The application is currently only available in the US, UK, Netherlands and Australia.

Donate Life America, a non-profit organisation that partnered with Facebook in the US, has noted a dramatic increase in donors since the donor status was offered.

They followed the patterns of donors in 22 states, noting the average sign-up of 400 new donors a day leapt to 6 000 the day after the organ donor status was launched.

While only a small percentage of donors’ organs are useable after they die, the increase in official donors has the potential to ease the strain on national donor lists.

The United Network for Organ Sharing said 6 600 people died while waiting on the organ transplant list last year in the US.

While the donor status is not yet an option in South Africa, the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa urges donors to make sure their families are aware of their decision, as a relative will have to inform the hospital after death.

Project manager of the foundation Taryn Gingell said:

“There are still strong difficulties, culturally, with organ donation. There was a case in KZN where the younger members of the family had to get permission to donate a family member’s organs but the elderly person did not understand this and refused that the organs be donated.”

By calling the foundation you can register as an organ donor and receive a sticker to place on your driver’s licence and ID book. However, for the transplant to be authorised, consent from your family does still need to be given in South Africa.

The foundation estimates there are currently 1 400 patients waiting for heart, lung, kidney and other transplants.

There are currently around 300 000 registered organ donors in South Africa, less than 0.6% of the population.