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Beware of the roaring market in human kidneys

By Vision Reporter

Added 12th February 2008 03:00 AM

THERE is a menace out there that is waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims. A new trend is emerging in developed countries, particularly in North America called organ tourism. It is a multimillion dollar global trade in human kidney complete with sellers and buyers.

THERE is a menace out there that is waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims. A new trend is emerging in developed countries, particularly in North America called organ tourism. It is a multimillion dollar global trade in human kidney complete with sellers and buyers.

PERSPECTIVE OF A UGANDAN IN CANADA

By Opiyo Oloya


THERE is a menace out there that is waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims. A new trend is emerging in developed countries, particularly in North America called organ tourism. It is a multimillion dollar global trade in human kidney complete with sellers and buyers.

An estimated 70,000 Americans are currently waiting for kidneys and many of them are becoming increasingly impatient. To the rescue come business people who, for a generous fee, can arrange a kidney transplant abroad. When a person suffers from kidney failure due to, say, diabetes, he or she has two choices. Either get a kidney from a live or dead donor or get on the dialysis.

In 2006, 47 percent of donated kidneys in the US came from relatives of the patients. Another potential source is to harvest the kidney from a dead donor whose organs are still in good shape. Where there is no immediate donor, the patient goes on dialysis, a device that mimics the work of the kidney, but that cannot really function with the same efficiency as the kidney. It is also cumbersome.

Now, many people who have money have found another way of getting a new kidney—by going abroad to get the transplant. In this case, a patient from a developed nation pays up to $150,000 to travel abroad, say to the Philippines, Pakistan or India to get a new kidney.

Once enrolled in the programme, the patient flies to the designated destination where he or she is matched with a donor, in most cases, a poor person willing to sell one of his or her kidneys for an amount much less than the huge payoff for the middlemen.

The said organ is harvested from the donor who is paid a few dollars, between $3,000 and $5000. The kidney is then transplanted into the patient who then flies home to North America or Europe with a spanking new kidney.

The doctors and people who arranged the transaction pocket most of the loot. However, a black market in kidneys is emerging where unsuspecting victims in poor developing countries are duped, and kidneys stolen without proper consent.

Last week, for example, an Indian immigrant to Canada named Dr. Amit Kumar was arrested in Katmandu, Nepal on a warrant from Interpol. It is alleged that Kumar, dubbed “Dr. Horror” by India’s media is wanted on counts of illegal transplanting of kidneys, cheating and criminal conspiracy.

Indian police believe the ring illegally harvested kidneys from as many as 500 unsuspecting Indians.

Media reports indicate that some of the victims of the alleged kidney mafia were forcibly kidnapped at gunpoint, operated on by skilled doctors, and then released with a kidney missing, and a massive scar on their sides. Canadian media reported that Dr. Kumar was, until last week, living in the Toronto suburb of Brampton with his beautiful family in a $610,000 house.

Neighbours only knew him as a cardiovascular doctor who drove around in a leased $65,000 Lexus 350 SUV. The Toronto Star first broke the news that the man was not what he claimed to be.

The case against Dr. Kumar raises interesting questions for people in developing countries especially where there is no explicit law against the selling of live organs. Should people who wish to do so, be allowed to sell their kidneys for a couple of thousand bucks? Moreover, if complication arises from such a sale, who pays for the kidney donor’s hospitalisation?

What about cases where kidneys are harvested without the patient’s consent, for example, where the victim is being operated on for something else, but the doctor illegally removes the kidney, and then sells it to the highest bidder on the world kidney market?

Although outlawed in most countries, the sale of live organs is a thriving and legal business in Pakistan, the Philippines and China, where many of the donors are the poor who desperately need the money their organ will fetch.

Ethically, some of the buyers have justified the transaction as a fair one because the seller willingly sells a kidney in return for money.

However, many have questioned how a poor farmer in a remote African village can reasonably be expected to understand the complicated notion of kidney transplant, and what the fair remuneration should be.

The debate aside, the issue of body part business is a particularly urgent one for Africa where most people live below the poverty line, eking out a living, but forever looking to put food on the table.

The temptation for a get-rich-quick scheme involving the sale of body parts may be too alluring to be resisted. Given the global appetite for kidneys, without government regulation, the sale of organ could become a huge problem with potentially serious consequences for the health of unsuspecting victims.

The responsible way to go is to review existing policy to see whether they adequately protect poor people from unscrupulous businesses looking to make a killing selling organs on the black market.

Simply ignoring the issue just because it is not happening in a country is not enough anymore. The question government legislators must ask is: How many Dr. Kumars are out there, eager to harvest kidneys and other human organs for profit?

Opiyo.oloya@sympatico.ca

Beware of the roaring market in human kidneys

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