27 October 2016
Tinder (left) has joined forces with NHS to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation among young people. Photos: HKEJ,
Tinder (left) has joined forces with NHS to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation among young people. Photos: HKEJ,

What Hong Kong can learn from Wales about organ donation

When 19-year-old Jamella Lo died in October after being stricken with primary pulmonary hypertension and needing a lung transplant, her death highlighted growing public concern about organ donation.

Lo died 10 days after her father made a public appeal for a lung from a deceased donor.

She had been one of almost 2,000 patients who were on the waiting list for a lung transplant in 2014, according to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority.

The number does not include more than 600 who were looking for kidney, liver, heart and cornea donors.

Hong Kong has 5.4 organ donor per one million people while Spain, which has the world’s highest donor rate, has 36 per million.

Spain has a system that assumes people consent to donate their organs after their death unless they have opted out.

In December, Wales followed suit, hoping to drive up transplant rates by 25 percent.

Other parts of the United Kingdom are watching how the scheme will work.

The British media described Wales’s move as “revolutionary” and Health Minister Mark Drakeford called it “a groundbreaking step”.

This means in Wales, consent for organ donation switches from opt-in to opt-out.

The new scheme applies to people 18 and above who have lived in Wales for more than 12 months and die in the country.

International students there are not affected.

In the old system, people must sign the National Health Service (NHS) Organ Donor Register or have their family’s consent if they wanted to donate their organs after death.

The organ donation rate in Wales has been 23.1 per million people, higher than that in the UK at just under 20 per million.

Organs donated in Wales will benefit those on the waiting list for organ transplant across the UK.

Although the new scheme has been praised by those on the transplant waiting list, it is not without critics.

Leading Welsh Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics are expressing anxiety about the plan despite being in favor of organ donation.

They fear it will diminish the principle that organ donation should be free and voluntary.

The scheme could turn “volunteers into conscripts”, they say.

The Welsh government has been criticized for failing to explain the new scheme clearly.

Polling by the government found that almost a third of people in Wales are not aware of the system.

Nonetheless, the government is spending £8 million (US$11.9 million) on a publicity campaign to alert people to the changes.

Doctors have expressed concern that a package in alignment with the new scheme is needed.

This includes sufficient information about the donors, staff and equipment.

At present, a third of the UK population have registered on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

However, this summer, the number of people on the UK register fell 5 percent, the largest drop in a decade.

To stem the fall, NHS recently teamed up with dating app Tinder to target 18-35-year-olds in order to attract more people to register.

Tinder will ask users to sign up to the Organ Donor Register and provide a link to it.

Celebrities such as Olympic gold medalists and musicians are part of the initiative.

In Hong Kong, there were more than 183,000 people on the seven-year-old Centralized Organ Donation Register at the end of November, accounting for less than 3 percent of the population.

Traditionally, death is a taboo in our society.

The government recognizes that many people have a mindset about keeping a dead body intact.

Medical experts say that a lack of mechanism and staff to cope with organ donations are to blame for the poor uptake of the organ donation register.

A Spanish adviser to the Welsh scheme said that rather than changing the law, an open discussion among families about organ donation and systems is more important.

Hong Kong has a long way to go in terms of culture and policy.

Perhaps it’s not necessary to team up with Tinder, but our efforts to save lives on the edge of death could start with the younger generation.

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EJ Insight contributor

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