Vietnam should come up with an effective awareness strategy to increase understanding of all aspects of organ donation in order to have more people become donors, experts say.

According to the Health Ministry, nearly 300 organ transplants are performed each year in the country while around 500,000 people nationwide need transplants of various kinds.

Dr Tran Ngoc Sinh of the Cho Ray Hospital in HCM City said that Vietnam had around 6,000 patients suffering from chronic kidney failure, and 300,000 blinded by diseases relating to the cornea.

However, the very small number of organ donors made it difficult to provide these people with life-saving or life-enhancing transplants, he said.

A recent survey on organ donation conducted among 2,000 people in Vietnam showed that more than 50 percent of people did not want to become donors.

Thirty-five percent agreed to become donors after their death and only 15 percent said they would donate whenever other people needed their help.

Religious beliefs and low awareness were main reasons for many people not wanting to become organ donors, Sinh said.

The first kidney transplant was successfully conducted in Vietnam in 1992 and 12 years later, local doctors performed the first liver graft surgery.

Early this month, doctors at the Hue Central Hospital in Thua Thien-Hue Province successfully performed a heart transplant, the first such operation performed solely by Vietnamese doctors.

The previous successful heart transplant was performed last year in Hanoi with the assistance of Taiwanese surgeons.

As of last November, 17 patients had received kidney transplants, 15 had undergone liver transplants and one patient had a heart transplant with organs taken from brain dead donors.

Vietnam passed a law relating to organ donation in 2006, under which Vietnamese citizens aged 18 and above have the right to donate their tissue or organs.

The law offers several incentives for donors including free health care services, health insurance and priority for transplants if needed. This year, the Ministry of Health is set to issue five more decrees involving organ transplant. It will also set up a national organ transplant association and a co-ordination centre.

Prof Nghiem Dao Dai, former head of Allegheny General Hospital 's Organ Transplant Ward in the US , said in a workshop held earlier that the shortage of organ donors was not a situation particular to Vietnam .

Dai stressed the need for organ transplants to be a very fair and transparent process in order to remove the notion that it was a treatment that served only the rich people.

Prof Francis L Delmonico, chairman of the Transplantation Society in Canada and an expert with the World Health Organisation, emphasised the importance of setting up a network of organ donors and having transparent regulations on brain dead diagnoses to avoid patients becoming victims of organ trafficking.

He also called for legal protection to ensure that people would not end up dead after agreeing to become organ donor./.