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Japanese Turn to China for Organ Transplants

China has become an overseas market for Japanese patients looking for organ transplantation.//

Although Japanese make up less than five percent of foreign patients in Chinese hospitals, more people, frustrated with years of waiting and agony and not sure of receiving transplants in their homeland are turning to the neighbouring nation where surgeries are less costly and quicker.

Kenichi Hokamura, 63, of the southern Japanese province of Miyazaki had to wait only a week to be invited to Shanghai for his kidney transplant after calling a broker. "I would have died had I waited here," said Hokamura.

Hokamura was among more than 12,000 patients waiting in Japan for healthy organs. There are only a few donors in Japan where people hesitate to donate their organs for religious beliefs, forcing patients to move to other countries, including the US and Southeast Asia.

The shortage of donors drives patients to other destinations, including the US and Southeast Asia even though the cost comes out of their own pockets for surgeries that health insurance would pay for in Japan.

The number of Japanese undergoing liver and kidney transplants in China is difficult to gauge because many don't wish official record keepers to know. But last year the health, labour and welfare ministry recorded at least 120 such patients.

Hokamura was one of them. Frustrated with the Japanese system, he ultimately decided on surgery in China rather than another country because he was more confident with China's medical advancement.

The same concerns over the medical expertise of other Asian nations as well as the 10-million-yen cost of the surgeries in the West have brought a growing number of transplant patients to China.


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