Sunday, February 10, 2008

Organ-transplant black market thrives in India

From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Tears well up in P. Guna's eyes as he stares at a long scar running down his side. A year ago, he attempted to stave off mounting debt by swapping one of his healthy kidneys for quick cash.

"Humans don't need two kidneys, I was made to believe," he said. "I can sell my extra kidney and become rich, I thought."

At the time, an organ trader promised Guna, 38, a motorized-rickshaw driver with a fourth-grade education, $2,500 for the kidney, of which he eventually received only half. Since then, he has experienced excruciating pain in his hip that has kept him from working full time and pushed him deeper in debt.

In recent years, many Indian cities - like Chennai in southern India - have become hubs of a murky business in kidney transplants, despite a 1994 nationwide ban on human organ sales (the Transplant of Human Organ Act states only relatives of patients can donate kidneys).

An influx of patients, mainly foreigners, seeking the transplants, has made the illicit market a lucrative business. Some analysts say the business thrives for the same reasons that have made India a top destination for medical tourism: low cost and qualified doctors. In fact, medical tourism is expected to reach $2.2 billion by 2012, according to government estimates.

Not surprisingly, an organized group of organ traders in cahoots with unscrupulous doctors is constantly on the prowl for donors like Guna.

In Gurgaon, a posh New Delhi suburb, police last month busted an illegal organ racket, which included doctors, nurses, pathology clinics and hospitals. In the past 14 years, the participants allegedly removed kidneys from about 500 day laborers, the majority of them abducted or conned, before selling the organs to wealthy clients. Read the full report.

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