BEIJING (Reuters) - China will limit the use of organ transplants from executed prisoners within two years, a senior health official said on Thursday, after the country ramps up a volunteer donor program aimed at curtailing the controversial practice.
Nearly 1.5 million people in China need organ transplants each year, but only 10,000 can get one, according to China's Health Ministry. Many of those organs are harvested from executed criminals.
Rights groups have accused China of harvesting organs from executed prisoners without their consent - something that Beijing denies.
A trial program has led to more than 1,200 voluntary organ donations since March 2010, China's official Xinhua news agency cited vice minister of health Huang Jiefu as saying.
When expanded, the ministry's program, established with the Red Cross Society of China, will mean "less reliance on the use of organ donations from prisoners that have been sentenced to death", Xinhua said.
China in 2007 banned organ transplants from living donors, except spouses, blood relatives and step or adopted family members, but launched a national system to coordinate donations after death in 2009. The organ shortage has driven a trade in illegal organ trafficking in the country.
Under Chinese laws adopted in 2011, criminals convicted of forced organ removal, forced organ donation or organ removal from juveniles could face homicide charges, Xinhua said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)