Organ donation pilot widened to more cities

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2011, 12:00am

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The mainland is including more cities in its pilot scheme for voluntary organ donations, even though the past year of test runs turned out to be unsuccessful.

Ten more cities, including Beijing, will soon join the scheme in the hopes of meeting demand for organs and to revamp the industry's heavy reliance on parts from executed inmates, the Beijing Times reports, citing an unnamed source at the Ministry of Health.

Once a city is included in the pilot scheme, the local branches of the Red Cross, which are overseeing the donation scheme, will establish teams of co-ordinators who will visit hospitals when notified that someone is a good candidate for a donation. They will then try to persuade families to allow organs to be donated.

Although China outlaws organ trade, the scheme might allow the Red Cross to give families of donors some payment for burial fees or hospital bills, the report said.

China had no voluntary donation system in place until the scheme was launched in March last year and enabled 11 provinces and cities such as Tianjin, Shanghai, Nanjing, Xiamen, Wuhan and Guangdong to try out voluntary organ donations at the supervision of the Red Cross.

But the results have turned out to be anything but encouraging.

By the end of February, after one year, only 37 voluntary donations were made. A total of 97 big organs - 30 livers, 64 kidneys and three hearts - were donated, among other organs such as skin.

Guangdong achieved 19 donations, more than half of the total, while none were made in Nanjing.

Doctors on the mainland perform 11,000 transplants a year, second only to the number performed in the United States. Live organ donations among blood relatives are allowed, and there have been reports of organ sharks forging identities to get around protocols.

As voluntary donation is rare, the mainland's transplant industry relies heavily on executed prisoners. By 2009, more than 65 per cent of such organs were harvested from executed prisoners, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.

The number of organs can hardly meet the huge demand of transplant needs. Each year, more than 1 million terminal kidney patients and 300,000 terminal patients with liver disease await transplants.

Mainland surgeons and health department chiefs have agreed that the mainland needs a regulated organ-donation mechanism, and they say the reliance on dead prisoners needs to be curbed.

But traditional beliefs in China that a body should be buried intact have made it hard to find donors.

A top transplant surgeon in Wuhan who preferred to be unnamed said common citizens couldn't be expected to donate when even medical professionals were reluctant to do so.

In April, Huang Jiefu, China's top surgeon, who is an expert on liver transplants and the deputy health minister, proposed an organ-donation plan that would have let drivers declare themselves as donors on their licences, similar to the practice in countries such as the US.

The plan was halted after public media polls found widespread opposition to such a plan, and a health ministry spokesman later said it wouldn't be implemented because society wasn't ready.

11,000

The number of transplants mainland doctors perform every year, second only to the number performed in the United States