The scandal involving kidney transplant kingpin Dr Amit Kumar is just the tip of an iceberg and there are many more bigger racketeers still operating across India, Aruna Th-Hollingshead, a leading agent of medical tourism has revealed.
“Having been in the medical field for over 35 years, I can bet my life that Dr Kumar couldn’t hold a surgical knife. There is definitely a team of very experienced and highly skilled nephrologists who have transplanted these kidneys,” Aruna Th-Hollingshead told HT by phone from her Calgary-based office.
Aruna, as she likes to be called, is also the North American representative of India’s famed Fortis group of hospitals. She also represents various other leading hospital chains from across the globe to facilitate medical treatment of North American patients.
A former Sri Lankan national, Aruna says she has lived and worked in India long enough to know that law will never be able to touch the powerful and mighty who are behind the scandal. “He (Kumar) is just an underdog who got busted,” Aruna said.
“The scandal is much bigger than what Indian audience is believing it to be. Kumar was just an ugly face of this monstrous racket that has defamed the organ transplants.”
“Just over 500 kidneys transplanted in a decade in India is too little a number given the size of demand for kidneys in the international market,” she said. There are many other cities including Amritsar, Chennai and Bangalore that are infamous for cheaper organ trades.
Aruna, who claims to have pioneered medical tourism in Canada, said many of her clients told her they could get the kidneys cheaper in New Delhi and the back alleys of Amritsar. It maybe recalled police in Amritsar had busted one Dr Sarin for illegally trading in kidneys in 2003. Several people were arrested but no one has been convicted so far.
She said she did not refer any client to Dr Amit or other underground operators in India since it was not only illegal trade in India, she wasn’t even sure of the safety of the medical procedure followed by these makeshift clinics. “My work is transparent and I deal with reputed hospitals and all the money is paid to the hospitals, surgeons and the vendors of kidneys.” She refused to call them donors since they were being paid a fee for the organ.
Aruna has referred many clients to Pakistan where kidney transplants was available for $35,000 in a “door-to-door package”, that included business-class air fare to Lahore, comfortable four-week, post-surgery stay with medical care and a 24x7 nurse.
However, Pakistani authorities banned the kidney transplants on September 4, 2007. “This doesn’t mean the transplants have stopped in Pakistan but this ban has shot the prices so high even in Pakistan. Now, the patients are made to stay in five-star hotels and then smuggled into a makeshift clinic in the middle of night for transplants,” Aruna said.
Quoting a Pakistani doctor by name, the medical tourism agent quoted him as saying: “I will take any patient for any fee.
If I don’t take him in, someone else will take him.” The HT is not disclosing the name of the Pakistani doctor because he could not be reached for a comment. “Its all about money. These doctors are so heartless. One dollar is worth 60 (Pakistani) rupees so whenever the doctors see a foreign patient, there heart beats 60 times faster,” Aruna said, adding she had seen so many greedy people in this industry that it makes her feel sick.
Aruna’s company has since been referring people to Columbia, Iran and Philippines where kidney transplants are legal. She said China was another favoured destination but that has also become off-limits with some recent legislation, giving a boost to the number of transplants in Philippines. She said China was also a destination for other organs like livers, lungs and even hearts.
(Aruna can be contacted at www.uniquehospitals.com )