Bid to end shortage of organ donors

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 June, 2011, 12:00am


The Hong Kong government will consider launching an organ donor programme because there is still a great shortage, even though the number of donors has almost doubled in the past five years.

Last year, the city had seven new organ donors for every million people, significantly higher than the four per one million in 2005, according to the administration. The statistics are compiled every five years.

The latest donation rate put Hong Kong ahead of other Asian places, including Singapore [4.6] and Japan [0.8] but the city is still behind developed Western countries like Spain [34]. The average rate of the European Union is 17, lawmaker Chan Kin-por says.

Most importantly, despite the sharp increase in the number of willing donors, the city still faces a severe shortage. There were 1,621 patients waiting for organ transplants at the end of last year, with only 190 receiving them during the year.

At a Legislative Council meeting yesterday, lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung suggested setting up organ donation registration booths, similar to the voter registration operation. He said relying on media promotion alone may not be enough.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said the government would consider the suggestion.

The biggest shortage is for kidneys. The number of patients waiting for a transplant and the number of donations had a ratio of 20 to one last year, lawmaker Chan said.

'Most end-stage kidney disease patients are on dialysis. But it doesn't cure the disease. Getting a transplant is the only way for them to get a new life,' he said.

Chan cited a Department of Health survey conducted in 2007 in which 70 per cent of respondents to a phone survey said they were willing to donate their organs after death. But only 78,000 people had registered under the Centralised Organ Donation Register to say they would donate their organs when they died.

The lawmaker suggested the United States' donation system be used in Hong Kong. 'For example, a wife may want to donate a kidney to her sick husband, but she may not be a match,' he said. 'Through the central registration system, the pair may find another pair with a recipient matching the wife and the donor matching the husband. The chance of finding a matching pair may be low, but still it increases the chance of finding matches.'

Chow said careful consideration and expert advice was needed to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of the scheme in Hong Kong.

He said the government would work on promotion programmes including the setting up of an organ donation memorial area in Kowloon Park. He hoped to encourage more discussion of the issue in families. 'A lot of the time, families of the deceased do not know about their will, and we need to respect the families' decisions,' he said.

Recent high-profile organ donations included a customs officer who received a liver donation from a colleague after he was seriously injured in a raid. It attracted widespread attention and encouraged more people to sign up as organ donors.