China to crack down illegal transplants

BEIJING - China's Ministry of Health is set to establish a reporting system in a bid to crack down on illegal human organ procurements and transplants, a statement on the ministry's website said on Tuesday.

Due to a severe shortage of donated organs for transplants, some hospitals on the mainland resort to illegal organ trading, seriously tarnishing the image of the industry and undermining its healthy and sustainable development, said Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu.

"The coming system held by the ministry would be open to qualified transplant centers nationwide and the general public to receive tip-offs on illegal practices, primarily the living organ trades," said Xia Qiang, director of the liver surgery and transplant department of Renji Hospital in Shanghai, who was invited by the ministry to attend a conference about the new initiative on July 15.

Liu Yong, a division director of the ministry's department of medical regulation, said the system is now under trial operation.

At the meeting, stakeholders including officials and clinical doctors also discussed a registration system especially for organ transplant surgeons, which might be introduced soon to further regulate the practice.

"That's more in line with international practices and has been written into the revised version of the current regulations for organ transplants, which are still under revision at the State Council," Liu said.

Currently, to land matching organs, some illegal agencies turn to living organ trades by forging paperwork, experts said.

In a recent court case in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu province, a human-organ trafficking suspect surnamed Su was accused of organizing illegal organ trades at least seven times from 2008 to March this year.

In addition, some unqualified hospitals also carry out organ transplants for large profits, which poses health risks to the recipients who have usually failed to land a match at qualified hospitals, said Qian Jianmin, chief transplant surgeon with the Shanghai Huashan Hospital.

Due to the limited capacity of the unqualified hospitals, such desperate patients have to go to authorized transplant centers for follow-up services, said Xia.

"Under the coming system, centers are encouraged to report such situations to the ministry to help authorities detect and end such irregularities," he said.

"So far we don't know when the system will formally begin operation and whether it's mandatory reporting or not for transplant centers," he noted.

"Like me, I think most of the practitioners would welcome such a move," he added.

Currently, China has more than 140 competent organ transplant centers registered with the ministry nationwide.

To encourage the nation's first deceased organ donation system - operated by the ministry and the Red Cross Society of China - the ministry planned to authorize more centers to procure organ donations only from the system, which was now in trial runs in selected regions.

"That takes time, at least several decades, for the industry to shake off a long-term dependence on executed prisoners as the dominant organ source," Qian said.

Official statistics showed that of 1.5 million Chinese who need transplants each year, only 10,000 can receive one, largely due to scarce organ donations.