CHINA - China's top health authority has granted an organ transplant permit to Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in an attempt to encourage transplants with organs donated by the public.
But unlike other hospitals carrying out transplants, Zhongnan is the only government-licensed transplant centre to accept organs donated through a system that does not cover donations from inmates on death row.
For a long time, the medical procedure mainly relied on organs from executed prisoners, with written consent from donors and the families required.
However, the practice in China has triggered international criticism.
In March 2010, the National Health and Family Planning Commission, then operating under the names of the Ministry of Health, and the Red Cross Society of China launched the new system to encourage organ donations from the public for lifesaving transplants.
It does not cover organ donations from prisoners on death row.
China now has 165 organ transplant hospitals recognised by the commission, according to an online notice issued by the commission on Wednesday.
Ye Qifa, executive deputy director of Zhongnan Hospital's liver disease research institute, told China Daily it is greatly encouraging that the commission has granted the transplant permit.
He said that under a trial carried out before the permit was granted, the hospital accommodated 53 organ donations from the public and performed more than 140 transplants.
Nationwide, more than 900 organ donations had been made up to July through the donation system, saving at least 2,500 lives.
"Such public organ donations are in line with international practice," Ye said, adding that the practice adopted at Zhongnan will become the trend for the country.
"Only with a more sustainable and ethical source of organ donations can China's course of organ transplants see healthy development and gradually gain international recognition," he said.
But he admitted that this will take time and need constant effort.
Only one in 30 patients awaiting transplants receive them because of a shortage of organ donations, according to figures from the commission.
Ye said low public awareness of organ donations is the main hurdle.
Cooperation and support from other key departments such as the emergency unit, intensive care unit and brain surgery is significant, particularly in detecting potential organ donors, he added.
"Many of them are reluctant to help with this for fear of potential medical disputes," he said.
In addition, transplant hospitals urgently need to build up professional teams of organ donation coordinators to detect and facilitate organ donations, he said.
This is a highly demanding job, as it takes special skills to approach families of potential donors when they are heartbroken at the loss of loved ones, Ye said.
There are three such coordinators at Ye's hospital, all with medical backgrounds.