More people signing up as organ donors

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Voluntary registrations have doubled to 2.51 million, Red Cross Society says

The number of registered organ donors in China has more than doubled in the past 20 months thanks to persistent public advocacy and upgraded management, officials and experts said on Saturday.

More than 2.51 million people have now signed up for organ donation across China, compared with 1.16 million in March last year, the Red Cross Society of China said.

Since 2010, around 31,300 people have donated their organs after death, resulting in transplants of about 91,700 individual organs, Wang Ping, vice-president of the society, told a news conference in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. The donors have included 11 foreigners, he added.

China initiated a trial program a decade ago to promote voluntary post-mortem organ donations and gradually implemented the practice nationwide. In 2015, the use of organs from executed prisoners was stopped, making voluntary donations the only legitimate source of organs.

With this year marking the 10th anniversary of the shift, Wang said organ donations are now being recognized and accepted by a growing number of people.

"The rate of body donations in China has risen from 0.03 to 4.53 donors per million since 2010, and the number of donated organs in China is the second-highest in the world," he said.

Hou Fengzhong, deputy director of the China Organ Donation Administrative Center, which is administered by the Red Cross, said the progress has been built on years of efforts devoted to spreading awareness and making registration easier.

"The growth rate for newly registered donors this year has far outpaced any year in the last decade," he said.

Hou said the launch of education campaigns featuring moving stories of voluntary donors and organ coordinators had helped people overcome cultural barriers and understand the significance of organ donation.

"We are at a tipping point where a rising number of people are responding to our messages by taking action, including newlyweds who came to register together near their wedding days and high school graduates who decided to sign up after turning 18," he said.

Hou said young adults in their 20s and 30s and the elderly, who tend to donate their bodies for medical research, are the most likely to register with the center.

"We rolled out a registration platform on WeChat in October 2016 and created a mobile application in 2018, and have recently begun issuing physical registration cards and thank-you letters, which makes the registration process more convenient and motivates the public to participate," he said.

The expanding pool of willing donors has been noticed by Cao Yanfang, an organ donation coordinator in Zhejiang province.

"In the past, we were used to seeing one out of 100 families of potential organ donors eventually agree to donate their family member's body. But the ratio has sometimes been as high as 20 percent in recent years," she said.

Lawmakers and local officials have been working on new laws and regulations to accelerate the development of organ donations in China.

Shen Weixing, dean of Tsinghua University's School of Law, said China's first Civil Code, which was passed in May, includes two provisions related to organ donation, which highlighted the importance of the humanitarian cause and will foster its long-term development.

Wang said some provincial-level regions across the country have released detailed regulations on governing organ donations and holding memorial services for donors.

"Organ donations and transplantations are complicated projects that require multiple government departments to unite and contribute," he said. "Pleading for stronger joint efforts from different governments and narrowing regional gaps are part of our focus in the future."

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