International experts urge China to share its organ reform experience with the world

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/24 19:03:39

Doctors perform organ transplant surgery in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province on May 8, 2016. Photo: IC

Moving through the damp air after a rain shower, a helicopter carrying two life-saving kidneys and a liver landed in front of a hospital in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province in early August. Like other donated organs, they were distributed by the computerized China Organ Transplant Response System (COTRS). 

Surgeries took place soon after and the organs saved the lives of two patients, hospital staff members told the Global Times Wednesday.

How China's organ donation system works was recently explained to visiting foreign organ transplant experts. China had been excluded from participating in international organ transplant events and organizations until the country banned the use of organs from executed prisoners in 2015.

"International transplantation is like a boat, and for many years, China was swimming out of the boat," said José Nuñez, an organ donation and transplant official from the WHO.

Now the boat, with China jumping on board, is moving faster than ever before, he said.

B&R beat

Nuñez's comments were echoed by other overseas experts who encouraged China to take the lead in the global governance of organ transplantation and the fight against organ trafficking. "The transparent and fair COTRS system and China's efforts to follow WHO principles such as no trading for organs and no organs from executed prisoners, is what we want to see China bring to the rest of the world," Francis Delmonico, former president of The Transplantation Society and a Harvard Medical School professor, told the Global Times.

Similar wishes were also expressed by Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who wrote in a letter that he hopes China will extend its model to the rest of the world through the Belt and Road initiative.

"The range of the initiative goes far beyond infrastructure building. It also involves sharing skills and facilities to help save lives," said Huang Jiefu, a former Chinese vice-minister of health and current head of the National Human Organ Donation and Transplant Committee.

"Some countries responding to the initiative, especially those in Africa, still lack transplant techniques and a comprehensive system is yet to be established, and organ trafficking is still rampant in the world. China has the responsibility to share its experience as an influential power," said Huang.

With the acknowledgement and support of the world, China is more confident about sharing its progress with more countries, especially those in need and those that share a similar culture with China, said Huang.

Hardcore reform 

No one understands how painstaking reform has been better than Huang, a pioneer of the changes that have taken place, who told the Global Times that "the future of China's organ transplant should be in hospitals, instead of in the execution ground."

Apart from obstacles from vested interest groups, the reform has faced the difficulty of creating a new system to replace the old one.

In 2010, when the voluntary donation system was introduced, China only has 34 voluntary donors. The number is expected to rise to around 5,000 this year, said Huang. 

But it is still far from being sufficient, as around 40,000 patients in China are on the waiting list of the COTRS system.

A total of 28 patients on the waiting list, including one child, die every month, said Wang Haibo, head of the COTRS system.

The huge gap between supply and demand make a fair and legal distribution system all the more necessary, especially to protect the rights and dignity of donors, said Huang, adding that the next move for reform is to upgrade training of doctors and increase the number of hospitals able to perform these kinds of operations, as well as making the cost of these surgeries part of public medical insurance. 

The support of China's top leadership is crucial to the reform, and stronger efforts from the country's health officials and Red Cross societies are needed, he noted. 

China's changes and reforms were, and still are, smeared by some overseas groups, such as the Falun Gong, who fabricate stories that China harvests organs from living people and still grabs organs from executed prisoners. 

"I'm willing to put my own reputation on the line to say that it does not happen…on the basis of what I see is happening here," said Campbell Fraser, an international human organ trade expert from Griffith University in Australia.

Fraser started his research on organ trafficking a decade ago and visited dealers, doctors, traders and buyers involved in the chain.

Newspaper headline: Teaching transplants


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