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Asia: world’s warehouse of organs

Today, illegal organ trafficking accounts for as much as 10 per cent of all transplants worldwide, according to WHO. HT Research Team finds out.

delhi Updated: Jan 26, 2008 01:31 IST
HT Research Team

Today, illegal organ trafficking accounts for as much as 10 per cent of all transplants worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

Organ Watch, a Berkeley-based NGO tracking the global traffic in human organs, says trafficking is not just limited to smuggling kidneys but involves illegally procuring and transporting other vital organs and tissues such as heart, intestines, eyes, lungs, liver and pancreas.

And while most countries are grappling with this illegal trade, Asia — that has in the last two decades come to corner a large share of this flourishing black market — is earning the dubious distinction of being the world’s warehouse of illegal organs. Promising quick, easy and cheap procurement of life-saving organs to foreigners who see it as their last hope, the region witnesses billions of dollars changing hands every month among iniquitous brokers, desperate patients, poverty-stricken donors and dishonest doctors.

In fact, 90 per cent of the donors in the region come from below the poverty line and 90 per cent of these donors agree to donate only to ease their financial troubles. Apart from India, China, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan are among those countries where maximum illegal sale of human organs happen.

Till 2006, China was the top host country for transplants. However, recently tightened regulations may change this. In July 2006, China banned the sale of human organs. In 2007, it restricted organ transplants for foreigners in order to give priority to sick Chinese. However, the country continues to be criticised for taking organs from executed prisoners. In the absence of less developed medical facilities and the presence of a porous Indo-Nepal border, many Nepalese people come to India to score a better deal for their kidney or liver.

Pakistan is considered the world’s second biggest centre for the organ trade, as it has no legal framework on transplantation, except a draft law passed in February 2007 that allows organ donations from the dead. According to WHO estimates, up to 1,500 “transplant tourists” have visited Pakistan in recent years. And in 2005, desperation drove a 26-year-old Bangladeshi mother take out a classified ad in a local newspaper, offering to sell one of her eyes.

The WHO issued guidelines in 1991 to avoid the coercion or exploitation of all organ donors. While 192 countries endorsed them, these guidelines are not binding and as a result, most of its recommendations have gone ignored.