Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Attempts to establish a voluntary organ donor system in China face many obstacles

The outdated and sometimes cruel organ donor system in China is failing patients and organ donors.
The Ministry of Health, in cooperation with the government-affiliated Red Cross and its branches around the country, has been busy since November 2009 reorganizing transplant services and building a national system for recruiting voluntary donors and fairly allocating transplantable livers, kidneys, corneas and other body parts.
Assigned to lead the effort is a Hong Kong University team supervised by Wang Haibo, at the La Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine and the initiative’s chief engineer. The ongoing task has involved building a database and setting medical standards that blend established international practices with health ministry regulations and domestic circumstances.
Three years on, though, the program designed to match voluntary donors and needy recipients has faced one setback after another.
And it’s thus yielded scant results: Only about 400 transplants from organ donors have been conducted since the ministry and Red Cross started working together to link donors and patients in March 2010. More than 100 of these have been in Guangdong Province, which includes Shenzhen.
Indeed, the ministry says every year only about 10,000 of some 1.5 million ill people across the country who need a transplanted organ are fortunate enough to get one.
And a significant number of these transplanted organs come from not willing benefactors but deceased prison inmates — a common organ-harvesting practice that China has pledged to phase out.
“Why is it so hard to do something good?”
That question, in fact, has long been on minds at the highest levels of China’s health system. Offering a short-form answer Aug. 22 was Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu, who has urged reform for the nation’s organ donation arrangement.
 “What holds us back are not traditions or morals, but our system,” Huang said. “If China cannot establish a voluntary organ donation system for its citizens, inevitably there will be a severe organ shortage.”
The system’s failures have roots in a lack of confidence that’s worsened over the years because the richest and best-connected transplant candidates have enjoyed easier access to organs than most Chinese people.
Potential volunteer donors often hesitate or decide against offering organs because they don’t want to support a system that helps only high-status patients with enough money to pay the right people.
The ministry has tried to rebuild trust since putting Wang’s team to work in 2009 and announcing in December 2010 that procedures for patients “applying for human organ allocations and transplant sharing should conform to medical needs and adhere to the principles of fairness, justice and openness.” 

Read more: Caixin Online

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