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300,000 Chinese need organ transplant yearly yet 1/30 performed

(Shanghai Daily)

15:44, April 03, 2013

Every year more than 300,000 Chinese need an organ transplant, but only 10,000 transplant surgeries are performed. On a day that honors the dead, the Qingming Festival, Lu Feiran reports that Shanghai is in the forefront of efforts to encourage organ donation to save lives.

While visiting her father's grave last week before the Qingming Festival, Ruan Xiaocong felt bad because she hadn't fulfilled her father's last wish, which was to donate his body to help others.

Several years before his death, the senior had told the family that he wanted to donate his body, but his wife and both daughters, including Ruan Xiaocong, strongly objected to the idea. The senior had been a financial clerk at the city's port, dying at age 88. He had wanted to donate his corneas for transplant and donate his body for scientific research to a medical school.

"After some time, we managed to talk him out of the idea," Ruan says. "My mother was really unhappy about it since she thought my father wanted to donate because he didn't want to be with her in the next life. After that, my father never mentioned donating his body again."

Three years after her father passed away, Shanghai-native Ruan says she feels remorse.

"Every time I see news about body donation and organ transplants on TV, I think of my father," the 50-year-old woman says. "He must be sad we didn't support him."

Ruan's family is not a special case when it comes to donating bodies, organs or corneas for transplant. Although the number of people willing to donate has increased in the city in recent years, there is still a great need of organs and corneas, as well as cadavers for medical schools.

The shortage is acute and China is setting up a nationwide organ transplant system that is supposed to be comprehensive, fair and transparent, matching donor organs with the most needy recipients.

The former Ministry of Health has said it plans to move to a voluntary national organ transplant network by around 2015, phasing out reliance on organs from executed prisoners. (After restructuring, the National Population and Family Planning Commission and the Ministry of Health have been combined.)

Every year more than 300,000 people around China need an organ transplant, but only around 10,000 actually receive one, according to the former Ministry of Health.

In 1982, Shanghai became the first city on the Chinese mainland to permit and encourage donation of bodies and corneas.

Since then, 33,814 people have registered to donate their body or corneas, resulting in 6,679 donations, according to the Shanghai Red Cross.

Last year nearly 2,490 people in Shanghai donated corneas or their bodies, an increase of around 50 percent over 2011, the Red Cross said.

The lack of donations stems partly from the traditional Chinese concept that body must be interred intact in order to enter the afterlife. It's also partly due to inadequate laws and questions about fairness in organ distribution. For example, there's no law to protect the interests of donors and their families; this sometimes results in conflicts between donors' families and recipients.

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