Hong Kong faces a severe continuing shortfall in kidney donors that is leaving many people in need of transplants with little or no chance of receiving one.
Hospital Authority figures showed 1,892 people were waiting for a kidney transplant as of June 30, and that only 99 received one last year. That means only around 5 per cent of those on the waiting list receive one.
Manesh Samtani is one of the lucky few, having finally received a kidney transplant seven months ago after a five-year wait.
His family members have had kidney problems for generations, and he was on daily dialysis in hospital for the duration of his wait. Samtani, 31, says the transplant changed his life.
"The problem is that when someone in Hong Kong passes away, no one knows what their wishes were before they died," he said. "The donation register is not obvious or accessible enough. People aren't made aware of the donation process."
The IT consultant attributed Hong Kong's low organ donation rates to weak social awareness, inadequate education, a lack of promotion on the need for organ donors, and traditional Chinese beliefs about the preservation of an intact body after death.
Many bereaved families have also cited an unwillingness to donate organs because the wishes of the deceased had never been discussed while they were alive. In some countries, people are asked whether they would like to become an organ donor when they are issued with a driving licence. That means the individual makes the decision on the spot, which has been proven to boost the number of donors.
The wait is even worse for asylum seekers. One 37-year-old man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who has been living in Hong Kong for 10 years has been on peritoneal dialysis for the past two years. But he is not on the transplant waiting list because only Hong Kong residents are eligible.
The Department of Health denies it is providing too little information to potential donors, saying it established the Centralised Organ Donation Register in November 2008 to provide multiple channels, including internet, e-mail and fax, to more conveniently allow people to register their wish to donate their organs after death.