Nguyen Thi Thuy Xuan of Long An province is acutely aware of the importance of organ donation: her son would not be alive if he had not received a kidney from his father eight years ago.

Xuan said she was told by doctors at Cho Ray Hospital that her son would likely survive if a relative could donate a kidney. The operation was successful, and shortly after, Xuan registered her name with the hospital's organ donor list.

"I happily and voluntarily agreed to donate my organs to save patients if I was certified as brain-dead or heart-dead," she told Vietnam News on the sidelines of a meeting held on organ donations in HCM City on May 30.

At the meeting, organised by Cho Ray Hospital's organ transplant coordination unit, Xuan spoke about the urgent need for organ donation.

Also speaking at the meeting, Tran Ngoc Sinh, President of the Nephrology and Urology Society of HCM City, and a urologist and consultant at Cho Ray Hospital, said that Vietnam's hospitals began performing organ transplants in 1992, but only a small number of people have received transplants because of a shortage of donor organs.

He said that current donations come mostly from the families of patients who can donate portions of their livers or kidneys.

"The country needs organ donations from recently dead patients, and patients who have experienced brain death or cardiac death," he said.

A brain-dead donor can save up to seven to eight people by contributing kidneys, liver, heart, lungs or pancreas, he said.

Sinh said that organ transplantation must be fair and that donations must be distributed first to patients in need. Profit incentives must be avoided, he said.

In Vietnam, more than 16,000 patients are waiting for organ transplant operations.

More than 8,000 patients suffer from chronic kidney failure, 6,000 are blind due to corneal problems, and 1,500 are struggling with liver failure. Hundreds of others are waiting for other organ transplants.

Deputy Director of the city's Nhi Dong 2 Pediatrics Hospital Truong Quang Dinh said the hospital had performed 14 kidney and eight liver transplant operations over a 10-year period.

He said the figure was low because organ donations remained "modest" due to high costs and a donor shortage.

On average, one liver transplant costs a total of 200 million VND. The recipient must pay 150 million VND, and of that cost, health insurance covers 130 million VND.

The regulations on organ donations became effective in 2001. However, the Health Insurance Law has "no terms or articles for support fees to adults who donate organs to children. That has also contributed to the scarcity of organs," Dinh said.

Each year, his hospital has an average of 13 to 14 patients who need a liver transplant and 15 patients with chronic kidney failure.

Quyen Linh, a well-known TV emcee and host, who spoke at the meting, said he had registered to donate his organs.

He said that religious beliefs or ignorance had prevented people from registering on donor lists or volunteering to become donors after death.

People are reluctant to volunteer because they want their bodies to remain intact after death, he said, adding that low awareness about the number of lives that could be saved through organ donations was another factor.

At the meeting, doctors and participants agreed that Vietnam should conduct a national campaign to improve public awareness and understanding of organ donations.-VNA