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Organ donations on the rise
Published on: 2010-07-20
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TIANJIN - A pilot program with which public health officials are seeking to develop a nationwide organ donation system has begun with success.

Since the program began in March, five people - four from Shenzhen and one from Tianjin - have donated organs.

Other cities and regions where the program is taking place include the cities of Shanghai and Wuhan as well as Guangdong and Hunan provinces, according to Hao Linna, deputy director of the Red Cross Society of China.

Hao's remarks came during the 4th Organ Transplantation Games in Tianjin on Saturday before an audience of some 800 people, consisting mostly of organ donors and recipients.

The Red Cross Society of China, under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, is responsible for promoting organ donation, overseeing organ procurement and allocation, and honoring donors across the mainland.

Vice-Health Minister Huang Jiefu said this increase in voluntary organ donation portends a positive change for China's image in the world community. With its history dating back some 30 years, he noted, Chinese "dependence on executed prisoners as a major source of donated organs is criticized internationally as unethical."

Voluntary organ donations save lives. But such donations, he added, also deter trafficking in organs.

Each year, more than one million people in China require organ transplants - while only 1 percent ever get the organs they need, according to official statistics.

Despite a law issued in 2007 that bans organ trafficking, the huge shortfall between supply and demand has led to unethical practices like organ trafficking, particularly from living, unrelated donors.

"That also poses health challenge for both the donor and recipient," said Huang, pointing to two recent cases that resulted in two deaths.

In response, Li Ning, director of the Beijing You'an Hospital, suggested that the system also include executed prisoners as eligible donors.

He said this would be acceptable after they "have signed written consent beforehand - providing that there is transparency and supervision."

The maintenance and access to organs from deceased donors is dependent on intensive care facilities and tertiary care infrastructure, guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) said. However, according to the WHO, these outcomes are more difficult to achieve in developing countries.

Given China's plan to decrease executions in the coming years, a voluntary organ donation system and the development of China's organ transplantations will prove crucial to saving lives, said Wang Ping, who heads Red Cross's relief and health department.

Chinese medical officials are also working to advocate the need for donations among citizens who have traditionally believed that the body should be kept intact after death, while offering awareness courses and trainings to familiarize people with the process.

Workers in intensive care units, heavy industries, and road safety departments are among the main audiences being targeted for this educational campaign, Wang added.

It is much-needed information. Every year, more than 100,000 people die in traffic accidents in China, many of whom could have been organ donors were they or their families informed beforehand, experts said.

In the US, signed consent by willing donors is printed on drivers' licenses in case of an accident and timely organ transplantation.

In China, Wang said, far more still needs be done to foster greater education, understanding and social acceptance of the practice.

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