Monday, August 08, 2016

The kidney-snatchers

More than 200,000 people in India need a new kidney every year. But only 2 percent to 3 percent of this demand is met, as legal organ donations are rare largely because of ignorance and a cultural reticence.

Commercial trade in organs is illegal in India, and only close relatives are allowed to donate to someone in need. Donations must be approved by a special committee at each hospital, that includes social workers and a state official. The chronic shortage has fuelled a thriving black-market trade of illegal transplants and trafficking in organs as desperately ill people often turn to middlemen, agreeing to pay sums of 1 million rupees ($14,900) or more for a kidney.

Police in Mumbai said they suspect a criminal gang which preys on poor people for their organs is behind a kidney transplant racket at a top hospital, the latest such case in India where a shortage of organs is fuelling a black-market trade. "We are looking into the involvement of a criminal gang that finds poor people and makes false documents for them and takes them to hospitals posing as relatives," a police spokesman said.

A kidney transplant at the Hiranandani Hospital in a suburb of India's financial capital, was stopped last week after the hospital was tipped off that the donor's documents were fake. One hospital employee and six other people have been arrested in connection to the case, which has prompted the police to look into past transplants at the hospital. Last month a hospital in New Delhi said it was duped by traffickers into removing the kidneys of victims believing they were relatives of needy patients.

Middlemen scout villages and small towns for potential donors, who they sometimes lure with false promises of a job in the city. Many people who give up a kidney are poor and illiterate, and get only a fraction of the money with the middleman pocketing the rest. Other cases in recent years have involved foreigners coming to India for illegal transplants, and men being trafficked from Nepal to be donors.

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