China continues to rely heavily on organs from executed prisoners for transplants but is likely to phase out the practice by later this year, a top health official has said.
The government is putting in place a voluntary organ donation mechanism that will replace the system of taking organs from executed prisoners, which many find unacceptable.
Huang Jiefu, director of the China Organ Donation Committee and the former vice-minister of health, has said that China would soon begin to rely on voluntary donations and not organs from dead prisoners.
"I am confident that before long, all accredited hospitals will forfeit the use of prisoner organs," he told Reuters news agency.
Zhu Jiye, chief surgeon at Peking University People's Hospital, told state media that reliance on organs from executed prisoners has resulted in a fall in the numbers of organs harvested.
"But the number of organs harvested this way just kept plummeting. So it's time to push forward the public organ donation system," he said.
According to figures supplied to Reuters news agency, more than half of transplants carried out this year used organs from executed prisoners.
The number of prisoners China kills every year remains a shrouded in secrecy but advocacy groups say the number could be in thousands.
Till recently, China denied that it used organs from dead prisoners but has gradually come around to admit that it is being done.
That practice is likely to change once the new mechanism becomes functional, officials said.
The first-ever regulation on organ donation coordinator management will be issued this week by the National Organ Donation Management Center to make it easier for the public to donate organs.
The 200-plus coordinators at the center will be evaluated and licensed, according to the regulation, Gao Xinpu, a division director at the center told China Daily.
"A team of at least 2,000 coordinators will be set up across the mainland. Their main job will be to identify potential organ donors, approach their families and inform them of a possible donation, and handle issues like the donor's funeral," Gao said.
When a donation is secured, the coordinators "will enter the information on the donor and donated organ into a computerised registry, and inform a designated organ procurement organisation for further distribution," he said.