China's new regulations improve organ donor system

BEIJING - Stricter regulations on organ transplant management will take effect on Sept 1, ushering in a new era of medical history in China, according to Huang Jiefu, director of the China Organ Donation Committee at the China Organ Procurement and Allocation Conference in Beijing.

The new regulations will better control management of organ donation, covering the entire process including the solicitation of the organs, the operations and hospitals carrying out operations.

The new regulations will also shorten the waiting time for patients needing transplants.

"It is now necessary for China to turn from depending on organs from executed criminals, to public donations in order to sustain the increasing demand. Hospitals which do not take immediate action, or manage the programme well will risk having their transplant licenses revoked," said Huang, a former vice-minister of health.

Qualified and authorised hospitals will be required to form an Organ Procurement Organisation (OPO) to oversee the procedure.

Currently, organs donated after death and organs donated by the living, account for nearly half of all transplants, with donations after death growing by nearly 100 cases a month, according to statistics from the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

According to the new regulations, if donations are to be solicited upon death, an OPO must be operating in the hospital.

The OPO will be comprised of surgeons who carry out the transplants, nurses in intensive care units (ICU), and neurologists.

Currently, less than half of the 165 accredited hospitals authorised to carry out transplants have an OPO, said Shao Wenyu, a leading liver transplant surgeon at Jiangsu Province Hospital at Nanjing.

"Great expertise is required, particularly in organ maintenance," he said. "Surgeons need more experience in aspects like post-surgery care to better handle transplants using organs donated after death."

He said it would take another two to three years for hospitals to be fully prepared and ready.

"The regulations will be a milestone for organ transplants in China," he added, saying that it will improve the process of how donor organs are procured.

A team of coordinators will be formed under the OPO umbrella to help identify and facilitate donations. Only qualified medical practitioners can become coordinators.

Currently, the Red Cross Society of China and its local branches are facilitating such donations, said Zhang Wei, deputy director of the medical administration department of Guangdong provincial health department.

Once the new regulations are in place, Red Cross volunteers who fail to meet required qualifications can only play an auxiliary role in aiding the coordinators, he said.

In 2010, China's health ministry and the Red Cross jointly launched a system for donation of organs after death in selected regions on a trial basis.

Under the trial, the Red Cross was responsible for promoting organ donations, seeing through the donation process to ensure fair practice, and commemorating donors.

In the past, hospitals in cities like Beijing were late to embrace these sorts of programs largely because of the different levels of enthusiasm in carrying out the initiatives by the Red Cross, according to Zhu Jiye, chief surgeon at Peking University People's Hospital.

The new regulations are expected to improve the situation.