Organ transplant waiting lists will not be shared between Hong Kong and China, and only organs which cannot be allocated locally will undergo cross-border matching, an expert said on Wednesday after the government announced local hospitals would be integrated into the national China Organ Transplant Response System.

After consulting mainland experts, Albert Chan – director of the Liver Transplant Centre of Queen Mary Hospital – told Commercial Radio that the proposed cross-border transplant mechanism would maintain the rule of “locals first,” whilst organs originating in the mainland would be carefully assessed before surgery.

organ donation promotion
An organ donation promotion vehicle. File Photo: GovHK.

Some Hongkongers had expressed, online, an unwillingness to donate their organs to mainland patients, Ming Pao reported. The government alleged on Monday that a group of people had tried to “disrupt” organ donations by making invalid withdrawals from the register, as Chief Executive John Lee said police would investigate the incident.

Doubts dispelled after mainland visit

A delegation of Hong Kong experts, including Chan and Lai Kam-tao, a professor from the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at Prince of Wales Hospital, visited Guangdong province in China to exchange information on the cross-border mechanism plan last weekend.

At a Tuesday Hospital Authority press conference, Chan – an organ transplant expert – said that they had relayed the concerns of Hongkongers, and the mechanism would serve only as a second-tier scheme beneath the primary approach of local allocation.

“After the mechanism is established, Hong Kong will be notified if the mainland can’t match an organ with a patient. Afterwards, Hong Kong experts will assess whether it’s suitable for transplant according to  ischemic time and the organ’s quality,” he said. Ischemic time refers to the period between an organ being chilled after the blood supply is severed, and the time in which the supply is restored.

hong kong public hospital
Many patients in Hong Kong are waiting for organ transplants. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Chan added that he understood the mainland authorities had been closely monitoring illegal cases of organ trafficking, an issue raised by Hongkongers.

2,594 awaiting organs

Chan said that, while there was a long queue for organ transplants in Hong Kong, there remained around 1,100 unmatched organs available in the mainland every year. He said the chance of transporting donor organs from the mainland to Hong Kong would be higher than the other way round.

According to the Hospital Authority, 2,594 patients are waiting for organs as of March 31 this year, with kidney transplants seeing the longest queue, with 2,433 people in line.

Seventy patients in Hong Kong had passed away whilst awaiting a liver transplant between 2018 and 2022, Chan said: “As frontline medic, I wish Hongkongers could be philanthropic… as we see patients pass away one by one.”

‘Suspicious withdrawals’

Hong Kong has seen a surge in withdrawals from the opt-in organ donation register this year, with 5,785 withdrawing between last December and this April, the Department of Health told HKFP on Tuesday. The department added that 50 per cent were “invalid withdrawals” as the applicants had never joined any donation scheme.

Organ donation day
The Hong Kong government celebrated the Organ Donation Day 2019 and 50th anniversary of first kidney transplant in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Withdrawals from register between 2018 and 2021 were in the hundreds, annually, according to the department.

The Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau of Hong Kong Police are investigating the “suspicious withdrawals,” local media reports.

Lam Chi-yau, chairman of Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, told Ming Pao that he did not understand how withdrawing from organ donation registers violated the law. He added that the government should respect people’s own will, and find out the reason for withdrawals, as such donations are voluntary and uncompensated.

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