On the Trail of Paediatric Liver Transplantation in South Africa – Social Challenges to Equitable Distribution of Organ Transplantation

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Health Tomorrow, Volume 3, Issue 1 (2015)


This paper tracks the journey of a family from a remote rural area in South Africa – a 2 year old child born with a life threatening liver disease, and his unemployed mother – who, by a series of contingencies, are sent on the trail of organ transplantation to land at the door of a private organ transplant centre. This case brings into focus the dilemmas that social factors present for equitable distribution of organ transplantation. The paper focuses on two interconnected issues: the link between socio-economic status and access to treatment, and existing practices of rationing. The uncritical conjunction of socio-economic status and organ transplantation disadvantages vulnerable sectors of the population. Yet, social circumstances impact the management of specialized medical treatment, which in itself imposes burdens on those with limited resources. Similarly, although this paper poses questions about indiscriminate practices, it accepts the inevitable rationing of health care.

Medical Humanities in Africa

WISER is working to establish the field of medical humanities in South Africa with other partners at Wits and in the region. Medical Humanities took root in the interdisciplinary spaces between social history of medicine, medical sociology, medical anthropology, literary studies, art and film studies, cultural studies, politics, philosophy, legal studies, public health, psychiatry, medical economics and medical ethics. Although initially concerned with contrasting and comparing approaches from the humanities and medical science to themes of health, suffering, therapy, pain and illness, it has grown in ambition to consider the foundational question of what it is to be fully human, inviting debate around vital epistemological problems. The interface of medicine and humanities also demands a broadly interdisciplinary discussion about what constitutes evidence, and this is critical in the formulation of all contemporary political arguments, including health policies. 

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