Alipay launches organ donor registration function for its over 400 million users

View of a logo of Alipay, the mobile payment service of Alibaba Group, in a hotel in Nantong city, East China's Jiangsu province, May 21, 2016. Photo: IC

Chinese mobile payment application Alipay owned by tech giant Alibaba last week launched a new function for its users to register as an organ donor, which takes only a few seconds and clicks on the app.

Teamed up with the China Organ Transplantation Development Foundation (COTDF) to provide the service, Alipay app makes the whole registration process quite simple: log on to the Alipay app, search "medical services" on the search bar, and you'll enter the main page of medical services. Scroll down and there will be the section "register for organ donation". Click on it and start the registration process.

While the registration function is mainly aimed at simplifying the registry procedure and arousing public awareness of organ donation, a qualified donor should meet relevant medical and ethical requirements.

As Alipay has already have more than 450 million users registered with their real names, those who want to become a donor only need to confirm their names and ID card numbers before signing up. While the registration is totally voluntary, it can be canceled at any time.

More than 100,000 users have registered as organ donors as of Tuesday morning since it was launched on December 22.

“It is the era of the internet, and the internet should be involved in organ-donation services,” Huang Jiefu, the president of COTDF, said in an interview with news outlet Caixin.

The Red Cross Society of China and the nation’s health authorities started promoting organ donation in 2010, and since then, a little over 80,000 people have registered as donors. However, Huang said number is disappointing, especially when compared to donor-registration rates in other countries. America, for example, has over 120 million registered organ donors while its total population is only 319 million.

The simplified registration procedure through Alipay was designed to lower the threshold for potential donors. Before the launch, donors had to answer more than 20 questions to sign up. Huang said he feared that 1 million potential donors would be lost with each additional question.

According to a survey jointly made by China Organ Transplantation Development Foundation and other institutions in December, 83% of respondents expressed willingness to register for donation. However, some people say the reason they don't register as a donor is because they don't know where to register and the procedure is too complicated.

According to Clare Zhang, a manager in the social responsibility department of Ant Financial, the company behind Alipay, the app’s real-name registration system has simplified the registration procedure. Since users have already signed up for Alipay with their names and ID card information, the app simply passes that information on to the donor registry. “Alipay is the perfect solution to this problem,” she said.

The main source of donated organs used to be executed criminals, but the harvesting of their organs was abolished in 2015.

In the first three quarters of 2016, about 2,950 organ-transplant surgeries were performed in China, an increase of 50 percent compared to the same period last year. However, there is still a large gap between the number of donors and recipients, as well as a shortage of doctors and hospitals for transplant procedures.

According to Huang, there are only hundreds of doctors in China engaging in organ transplants, resulting in only around ten thousand operations being available annually.

Meanwhile, there are only 169 qualified hospitals where organ transplants can be done. Of those, over 70 are capable of performing liver transplants, over 90 kidney transplants, 20 heart transplants, and fewer than 20 can perform lung transplants.

"We want to increase the number of qualified hospitals to at least 300," said Huang.

Currently, the high cost of organ transplant has been the main concern for families. It takes over 300 thousand yuan( USD 43,172 ) to transplant a kidney, and 600 thousand (USD 86,345) for liver or heart transplants in cities like Beijing, according to a patient who once received a liver transplant.

Though people donate their organs for free, it takes a great amount of money to obtain, conserve and transport those organs. Those costs generally are covered by government financing in developed countries, according to Huang.

It is reported that Apple Inc added the function of organ donation registry in iPhones in July 2016. Facebook, Google, and Twitter are also developing tools to facilitate the cause of organ donation.

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