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Chinese health officials on Monday vowed to fight corruption in the organ donation system, pledging zero tolerance toward non-voluntary organ transplants and denying that organ harvesting continues from executed prisoners. 

On Monday, organ transplant experts from the WTO, International Society for Organ Donation and Procurement (ISODP) and The Transplantation Society (TTS) gathered in Beijing to attend the 2016 China International Organ Donation Conference, the first such international meeting held on the Chinese mainland. 

“All the organs transplanted after 2015 are from voluntary donors and we have a zero tolerance toward violations,” Huang Jiefu, a former Chinese vice-minister of health and current head of the National Human Organ Donation and Transplant Committee, said at a press conference. 

Huang blasted allegations that the number of organ transplants far surpassed the amount of organs donated as lacking evidence, saying that China performed around 8 percent of the world’s organ transplant surgeries, and also consumed 8 percent of world’s post-operative medications, which are all produced by foreign companies and are traceable. 

China banned the use of executed prisoners’ organs in January 2015, making voluntary donations the only legitimate channel.

However, the rumor that China is still using organs from dead prisoners and harvesting from living people has not died down.

CNN reported in June that China was still engaged in harvesting organs from prisoners, and that people were even being murdered for their organs, citing a report.

The law and regulations cannot stop all the violations and corruption, such as trading in organs, but the Chinese government has shown great resolution to fight against corruption in organ donation and will not tolerate violations, Huang said.

The rumors only make us stronger and more dedicated to making the system more open, fair, transparent and trustworthy, Huang said. 

The Chinese government’s resolve to reform the organ transplant industry was highly praised by many organ transplant experts, including Kimberly Young, former president of the ISODP, who said after the conference that she was highly impressed by the huge change. 

“None of us would be here today if we did not trust that everything is continuing to be done to support this transparent and ethical process,” Young told the Global Times. 

“When we first received training [as a surgeon], we were encouraged not to interact with China because there were concerns about unethical practices going on, but what I have seen over the last 10 years is gradual engagement between the transplantation society and those leaders within China who are interested in changes,” said Nancy L. Ascher, president of The Transplantation Society, at the conference.

Innovative procedures

The Chinese government puts great attention on the country’s organ donation and transplant procedures, which directly concerns the lives of patients and also justice in society, Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong said in a speech delivered at the conference. 

China processed 2,950 organ donations in the first nine months of this year, with a 50 percent increase year-on-year, the Xinhua News Agency quoted figures released by the National Health and Family Planning Commission as saying on Sunday. 

At present, the annual average number of organ donations in China ranks first in Asia and third in the world, the Xinhua News Agency reported. 

WHO director general Margaret Chan on Monday praised China’s “green channel” for organ transport, which sufficiently reduced delivery times for organs, as an innovative move from the country’s health, police and transport system.

In May, a 31-year-old patient at a hospital in Wuhan, Central China’s Hubei Province, received a donated heart within three hours, half the time before the green channel went into operation. 

The Chinese government started to pilot changes to the organ donation system in 2010, and criminalized the unauthorized trading of organs in 2011. In severe cases of violation, the death penalty could apply.  

Moreover, a new system for organ management and distribution was launched in 2013 to better regulate donations. 

Since 2007, China has apprehended 32 intermediaries involved in the organ trade, arrested 158 criminal suspects, investigated 17 medical institutions and closed 13 underground operation theaters.

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