China to end organ donations from executed prisoners

File photo: China prison
Image caption Most of the transplant organs in China come from prisoners on death row

China has pledged to end the practice of taking organs from executed prisoners within the next five years, state media report.

Officials say the country would instead rely on a new national donation system for organ transplants.

Prisoners account for two-thirds of China's transplant organs, according to previous estimates from state media.

Human rights groups say death row inmates are pressured to donate organs - China denies such allegations.

Correspondents say that China has long said it intends to reduce reliance on prisoners for organ donation, but the sheer volume of organs needed may make this difficult to achieve within the timeframe set out.

Official figures from the health ministry show that about 1.5 million people need transplants, but only 10,000 are performed annually, state-run agency Xinhua says.

Huang Jiefu, vice minister of health, was quoted by Xinhua as saying that a trial system for public organ donation has been launched in some areas.

"The pledge to abolish organ donations from condemned prisoners represents the resolve of the government," he said.

He added that organ donations from prisoners were not ideal because infections are usually high, affecting the long-term survival rates of those who undergo the transplants.

Rights groups estimate that China puts to death thousands of prisoners a year.

Official figures, however, remain a state secret, according to the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.

He adds that the country faces a severe shortage of organ donors, partly because many people do not want to donate organs due to the cultural belief of that they should be buried whole.

This has led to a thriving black market. Officials outlawed organ trafficking five years ago, but it still remains a problem.

The Red Cross Society of China has also said that guidelines would be issued regarding financial aid to families of the deceased organ donors to help curb the illegal organ trade.