Pakistan’s organ bazaar is on the uptake once again despite desperate attempts to clamp down on the illegal trade. More reports have surfaced in the international media. This terrifying trend is a great cause for concern and a national disgrace, said Professor Adibul Hasan Rizvi, the president of the Transplantation Society of Pakistan.
Rizvi was speaking at a press conference on the resurgence of the organ trade in the country at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) on Friday. He has appealed to the judiciary and legislators to uphold and implement the law by delivering severe punishment to those found violating the recently passed Human Organ and Tissue Transplantation Act.
According to statistics shared by SIUT, prior to the legislation, over 1,500 foreigners travelled to Pakistan each year for a kidney transplant. Each patient paid between $10,000 and $20,000 for the procedure.
A video run during the press conference exhibited the media and civil society’s efforts to highlight the practice which exploits the poverty stricken in the country. Due to concerns for privacy and the threat of a backlash, the media was requested not to share the identity of people interviewed who sold their kidneys as recently as March this year.
“I earn about Rs2,000 a month,” said a man bound to a wheelchair in the video. He sold his kidney to avoid going into debt. When asked how much he was willing to sell it for, he sadly replied, “whatever, perhaps Rs50,000 to Rs60,000.”
Another disturbing story came from rural Punjab. The man is in debt to his landlord for a loan of Rs40,000 that has piled up to nearly Rs200,000 with interest. Over time, the landlord raped his wife in order to settle part of the debt. Following this incident, the poor man was left with no choice but to sell his kidney. “I was promised Rs120,000 but all I received was Rs70,000. I have not managed to pay off my debt, I have just one kidney and the landlord has taken away my son,” he said as tears streamed down his face. His son is kept in a field in which he works all day, surrounded by rabid dogs in case he tries to escape.
The video made through an initiative of MNA Kishwer Zehra who said that some people in the country have been pushed so far below the poverty line that they are forced into terrorism and selling their organs.
“A young man ‘S’ also sold his kidney to repay a debt. When he did not receive the promised amount he was unable to pay off the loan. His wife was peeking behind the door and heard our conversation. As I passed by she told me, please tell him not to worry, I will also sell my kidney,” Zehra said, her tone unable to hide the pain and anguish she witnessed while interviewing these people.
Almost everyone in the video named a well-known centre in Rawalpindi as the place which facilitated the sale of their organs. Doctors are now relying on the state to help prosecute the offenders. Professor Ahmed Fawad of the Pakistan Association of Urological Surgeons said that while there are many laws, their strength is in their implementation. “At the end of the day implementation of laws is the government’s job – they must sit up and take notice of what is happening,” he urged.
If something is not done soon, however, Ejaz Ahmed of the Pakistan Society of Nephrology warned that the country could reach the same levels of organ trading that it had before the law was passed.
Rizvi cautioned ‘clients’ who were seeking to buy organs as well. “In such delicate procedures (kidney transplants) there is a risk of complications,” he said.
When people register with commercial centres, they put themselves at the mercy of such risks. “If there are any issues later we are unable to help them as there is no proper detailed summary of the procedure, medical history noted or any documentation that can help us treat them. The entire process proves counterproductive.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2011.