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Activists say illegal trafficking on the rise, animal-to-human organs cause for concern

Two prominent Chinese activists have warned that attempts to meet the needs of patients for donated organs in China are subject to all the dangers stipulated by WHO, including illegal organ trafficking, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned this week of the dangers of transplanting animal organs into humans in the wake of fresh cases of SARS and avian flu in several Asian countries, calling for careful regulation of such research programs immediately.

They have also highlighted a growing international trade in human body parts as underground organizations try to step in to close the gap between supply and demand. Both warnings are contained in policy proposals submitted by the WHO to its Executive Board, which started a one-week meeting on Monday.

According to prominent dissident Harry Wu, China's problems with organ transplants have resulted in the harvesting of organs from bodies of executed prisoners, and a flourishing illicit trade in 'donations' among the general population.

Wu, who has testified to the U.S. Congress on organ harvesting by government doctors at China's execution grounds, told RFA's An Pei that private organ trafficking was forbidden by Chinese law. "According to the very strict law on the subject, trafficking in organs is forbidden," Wu said.

"Of course there are no restrictions on organ donations between relatives. And bona fide donations between unrelated people are not yet clearly regulated. But the law is extremely clear that selling body parts for financial gain is not allowed," he added.

However, the laws had yet to be implemented effectively, Wu said. "There are already all sorts of problems related to this. For example, on the streets of Shanghai you sometimes see advertisements pasted on the street lamps offering kidneys for sale, or posted on the Internet. Now these are definitely for financial gain."

And the government practice of using organs from freshly executed prisoners was not considered illegal or abhorrent in China, Wu said. "People just think, well, they're already dead. Once they've been executed, they have no more consciousness, so why not use this waste product?"

Such practices were not the only areas of concern, however. Global health experts have warned this week in Geneva that pioneering research into organ transplants from animals to humans must urgently be regulated to prevent diseases from jumping the species barrier in a similar manner to SARS. China's research program in this area is already decades old.

Chinese public health expert Wan Yanhai, who formerly headed an AIDS NGO in China, said the warning was timely. "This is a very important consideration," said Wan, who has testified to Congress on public health concerns in China, including the practice of blood-selling, which contributed to China's HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"In the animal kingdom there are all sorts of diseases that could prove fatal to mankind, which are carried by the animal--new diseases. It's possible that when such a disease appears in a human environment [in the form of a transplant], that there will be absolutely no immunity to it."

WHO officials said the experimental transplants were on the verge of going ahead in some countries, but there was little regulation to keep track of what is going on or to prevent the misuse of xenotransplantation or animal-to-human transplants.

China has already begun an intensive program of pig inbreeding, aimed at mass-producing organs for transplant into humans, begun from an experiment which started in the southwest province of Yunnan in 1980. The program has already moved into commercial territory, with the signing of a contract to mass produce inbred pigs for transplant organs in 2000, official media have reported. #####


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