Friday February 28, 2020

Doctors Support China’s Pledge on Stopping the Harvest of Inmate Organs

Doubts persist that China is accurately reporting figures or meeting its pledge given its severe shortage of organ donors and China's long-standing black-market organ trade

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Inmate Organs
Participants are seen at the China International Organ Donation Conference, held at the ornate ballroom in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Oct. 17, 2016. VOA
  • Doctors from the World Health Organization and the Montreal-based Transplantation Society who were invited to the conference by China praised Chinese officials for reforms they have made in the transplant system
  • China is believed to perform more executions than any other country, though the government does not disclose how many
  • Dr. Philip O’Connell, the immediate past president of the Transplantation Society, told reporters later that he would work with doctors supporting reform in any country

Surgeons from around the world gathered at a conference in Beijing on Monday in China’s latest effort to fight persistent skepticism about whether its hospitals have stopped performing transplants with the organs of executed prisoners.

Doctors from the World Health Organization and the Montreal-based Transplantation Society who were invited to the conference by China praised Chinese officials for reforms they have made in the transplant system, including a ban put in place last year on using organs from executed inmates.

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Doubts persist that China is accurately reporting figures or meeting its pledge given its severe shortage of organ donors and China’s long-standing black-market organ trade. By its own figures, China has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the world, and even the system’s advocates say it needs hundreds of additional hospitals and doctors.

While China suppresses most discussions about human rights, government officials and state media have publicly talked about their commitment to ending a practice opposed by doctors and human rights groups due to fears that it promotes executions and coercion.

In a sign of the issue’s symbolic importance to China, the conference took place in an ornate, chandeliered ballroom inside the Great Hall of the People, the building next to Tiananmen Square that typically hosts foreign leaders and ceremonial Communist Party events.

Doctors at the conference Monday described meeting patients and visiting hospitals around the country, and said the recorded usage of drugs given to transplant patients lined up with China’s reported numbers of transplants.

Dr. Jose Nunez, an adviser on organ transplants to the World Health Organization, told the audience that he believed China was building the “next great” system.

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“You are taking this country to a leading position within the transplantation world,” he said.

Others offered praise for Chinese officials, but stopped short of saying whether they could confirm China had stopped using executed inmates’ organs.

“It’s not a matter for us to prove to you that it’s zero,” said Dr. Francis Delmonico, a longtime surgeon and a professor at Harvard Medical School. “It’s a matter for the government to fulfill what is the law, just as it is in the other countries of the world that we go to.”

China is believed to perform more executions than any other country, though the government does not disclose how many.

The former vice minister of health, Dr. Huang Jiefu, publicly acknowledged in 2005 that China harvested executed inmates’ organs for transplant, and a paper he co-authored six years later reported that as many as 90 percent of Chinese transplant surgeries using organs from dead people came from those put to death.

Huang has also responded to a report earlier this year that a Canadian patient apparently received a kidney from an executed inmate by announcing that the doctor and the hospital in question were suspended from performing more transplants.

A key impediment is that members of a donor’s immediate family have the right to veto any transplant once the person is dead. There is also a traditional aversion to the removal of body parts from the dead and a fear that donated organs could be exploited for monetary gain.

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Dr. Philip O’Connell, the immediate past president of the Transplantation Society, told reporters later that he would work with doctors supporting reform in any country.

“The options are that you completely isolate someone, which means that generally their practices get compounded, or you engage with them and you tell them your point of view and explain why it would be better for them to change,” O’Connell said. “That is, I think in the simple terms, what we’re doing.”(VOA)

Next Story

Here’s How Informal Education Is Helping Rohingya Refugee Children

Informal Education Brings Hope to Rohingya Refugee Children in Bangladesh

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Rohingya Education
A child reads a book in a makeshift school run by Rohingya teachers in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

By Tahira Kibria, Rikar Hussein

Dozens of sprawling informal education centers across refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar are providing a glimmer of hope for thousands of Rohingya refugee children who survived a massacre in their home country of Myanmar in 2017.

Across makeshift camps in refugee city of Kutupalong, hundreds of informal learning centers have been set up by international agencies and Rohingya community leaders to give the refugee children access to education. The opportunity to learn and improve skills is something the youngsters were never offered back in Myanmar.

Sharmeen Noor, a mathematics teacher at Kutupalong Primary School, told VOA that their programs ensure the Rohingya children do not fall behind in their education despite the absence of formal schooling. The centers can also create a positive impact to help those traumatized by the Burmese army’s 2017 crackdown that forced nearly 700,000 ethnic Rohingya to flee from Rakhine state to Bangladesh.

“Those who have seen violence think about it all the time,” said Noor. “They pay very little attention in class. As teachers, we are working on this matter. We are trying our best to bring them into normal life. God willing we will do it.”

About 350 Rohingya children are currently enrolled at Kutupalong Primary School, which provides basic informal education from preprimary through fifth grade.  The children are taught subjects such as general science, mathematical, English, Burmese, and Bengali.

Noor said many of their teaching activities focus on play-based learning to provide education and at the same time give the children a chance to forget the daily struggles they face in the overcrowded camps. Particular attention is given to children who are mentally challenged.

Rohingya Education
Rohingya refugee boys who study in an Islamic school smile as they react to the camera at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

“We put these children in between two good students so that the kids can follow their example … It is challenging, all kids are not similar.  To understand them we have to rely on their mental ability.  We make a list of pupils who are behind.   To bring them to a normal level,  we try to provide something they like, such as games,” Noor added.

2017 Crackdown

More than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya people fled their homes in Rakhine province of neighboring Myanmar in the summer of 2017 due to a crackdown by Myanmar’s army and Buddhist militias. The UN has described the army’s campaign in Rakhine province as “textbook ethnic cleansing”, and has charged that the Rohingya people suffered killings, rape, and mass destruction of their homes by the army and Buddhist militias.

Most of those who fled to neighboring Bangladesh have been placed in Kutupalong, making it the largest refugee settlement complex in the world.

An estimated 400,000 of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are children. Human rights organizations say only one-third of them have access to education. Lack of basic services and health care have also put many children at the risk of malnutrition and infectious diseases.

In a December report, Human Rights Watch said authorities in Bangladesh were deliberately preventing aid groups from providing education in the camps and banning Rohingya children from enrolling in schools outside the camps.

“Bangladesh has made it clear that it doesn’t want the Rohingya to remain indefinitely, but depriving children of education just compounds the harm to the children and won’t resolve the refugees’ plight any faster,” said Bill Van Esveld, the watchdog’s associate children’s rights director.

“The government of Bangladesh saved countless lives by opening its borders and providing refuge to the Rohingya, but it needs to end its misguided policy of blocking education for Rohingya children,” he added.

Informal learning centers

The Bangladesh government, however, announced in January that it was working with the United Nations’ children agency UNICEF to provide formal education to the children. UNICEF described the move as “a major new phase” for education of the refugee children that initially targets 10,000 Rohingya students from grades six to nine and will later be expanded to other grades.

Through a program called the Learning Competency Framework and Approach, the UNICEF currently provides informal education to 220,000 Rohingya children between aged four to 14. An estimated 315,000 children and adults are getting education in over 3,200 learning centers supported by the UNICEF and other agencies.

Many Rohingya refugees, however, say the learning centers are not enough to empower their children and equip them with needed skills.

Rohingya Education
Across makeshift camps in refugee city of Kutupalong, hundreds of informal learning centers have been set up by international agencies and Rohingya community leaders to give the refugee children access to education. VOA

Religious studies

Across the camps, religious leaders have volunteered to provide religious teaching in mosques and makeshift centers known as Madrasas. The children in the Madrasas mainly focus on Islamic studies and Arabic.

Teacher Abdus Sobhan told VOA that 15 volunteer instructors were working with him at a Madrasa hosting 93 students. The children in his classes are taught to recite Quran and learn Arabic.

“It is important to teach children religion, so that they refrain from bad actions and devote themselves to God,” Sobhan told VOA.

Hafez Idris, another Rohingya teacher based in Kutupalong lambashia I2 B3 camp, is working with four other teachers to help orphaned kids learn how to recite the Quran. The learning center, Nurani Yetim Khana and Hafez Khana, hosts as many as 250 Rohingya orphans who are put into religious studies as well as math, Burmese and English.

“We don’t take any money from students or people from our block, but if anyone willingly wants to contribute, then we accept the money.   We run this Madrasa to save our religion and to educate our young generation about religious studies,” he told VOA.

According to Hafiz Ullah, another teacher at Hafez Khana, by providing children with education, even if informal, the community hopes to preserve their culture from being lost after being uprooted from Rakhine state.

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Ullah said it was essential that the children learn what their community went through in Myanmar, particularly because many of them grow up in camps with no memory of their homeland.

“Our situation was very bad. We could not even wear our religious dress, and we just came to Bangladesh with one lungi, one t-shirt, and a cap,” he told VOA. (VOA)