China is investigating its organ transplant hospitals following reports that some are carrying out illegal operations for foreigners who are willing to pay much higher prices, according to the state press release on Thursday.
A team from the health ministry and the National Organ Transplantation Committee was in the process of inspecting the 164 medical institutions qualified to carry out organ transplants, the China Daily reported.
The ministry had already named 16 hospitals it said failed to comply with transplant regulations and would revoke the licences of institutions which failed to pass the inspection, it said.
Some hospitals have illegally sold organs to foreign "transplant tourists" to increase their profits, with three penalised in 2008, the paper said.
The health ministry launched an investigation in February after Japan's Kyodo News agency reported that 17 Japanese tourists spent about 595,000 yuan (87,000 dollars) each for liver or kidney transplants at a hospital in the southern city of Guangzhou, the daily said.
Such operations usually cost about 100,000 yuan.
"We'll let the people know and decide which hospital to go to for quality and ethical transplants," a ministry official told the English-language daily.
China passed regulations in 2007 to ban organ trafficking in any form and established a national organ donor system.
According to official estimates, around two million Chinese need transplants each year but only 20,000 operations are carried out due to a severe shortage of donors, the paper said.
One unnamed surgeon said his hospital was still performing transplants on foreigners willing to pay.
"The hospital can fake their identities to fool the authorities," he told the daily.
The Red Cross Society of China together with the health ministry plans to set up an independent organ donation system with a waiting list of patients, the paper said.
"A waiting list will be made public to secure transparent and fair practice in terms of organ donation allocation and procurement," Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu was quoted as saying.