News / South Africa

Liam Ngobeni
2 minute read
3 Aug 2018
12:59 pm

Skin shortage for burn victims

Liam Ngobeni

A staggering 1.6 million South Africans suffer burn wounds a year, and 268 severe cases are reported every month.

Image: Pexels

South Africa is facing a critical shortage of organ and tissue donors to assist burn victims, reports Centurion Rekord.

Dr Roux Martinez, head of the only specialised paediatric burns unit in Africa, said the biggest obstacle to providing skin in adequate quantities was a shortage of organ and tissue donors.

READ MORE: Burn victim saved by skin grafts from identical twin

Martinez said the world average of deaths due to burns was 5 in every 100 000 people.

In South Africa, the ratio was 8.5 for every 100 000.

As many as 1.6 million South Africans suffered burn wounds a year, with 268 severe cases reported every month.

Martinez said: “Every person in South Africa could make a difference, and we appeal to the public to make a decision in favour of donation after their own death.”

Since the inception of skin banking by the Tshwane University of Technology’s Centre for Tissue Engineering (CTE) in 2016, many lives had been saved through the use of donor skin.

Martinez noted the successful treatment of 48 patients who suffered an average of 60% burns over their bodies.

“Every year, during winter, shack fires and even veld fires in rural areas cause the death of many people – especially children.”

These deaths occurred not only because of the severity of the burns, but because there were no effective, affordable synthetic treatment options available to patients in state hospitals.

“The best solution to this problem is cadaveric human skin,” said Martinez.

“Only a few strips from the very top layer of skin can be procured from organ and tissue donors and used very effectively on burn victims.”

She said the treatment of burns with cadaveric skin had a number of advantages:

– Allows for early excision and immediate cover.

– Reduces fluid and heat loss.

– Protects against bacteria, fungi and viruses.

– Allows any superficial areas to rapidly heal.

– Allows cover with time to catch up with nutrition, treat infection, get biochemistry under control.

– Prepares the wound bed for grafting with own skin.

– Generally brings about a dramatic improvement in overall well-being.

The treatment process was far less traumatic and painful than treatment with synthetic dressings.

There was less scarring and the cost saving was immense.

Apart from organs and skin, one could also donate corneas, bone and heart valves.

To register as organ and tissue donors go to or or call the toll free number on 0800-226-6611.

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