Pakistan has long been known to be a hub for the trade in illegal organs. This is a complex and lucrative business for all concerned, except the donors who lose an essential organ at a price that is a pittance. The donors are driven by poverty, the traffickers by profit and the recipients often by desperation as they stare death in the face. Nationally the law-enforcement agencies have been slow to react, in large part because of a lack of supporting legislation under which a prosecution may be made — but that has just changed.
The raids carried out in Lahore last weekend by the FIA and the subsequent lodging of the first-ever case under the Human Organ Transplant Act are a defining moment. Two doctors, two foreigners who were awaiting the organs and two donors were arrested in the first raid, and the two foreigners were subsequently arrested at a hotel in Gulberg. The detentions were the culmination of a long investigation and revealed a sophisticated criminal operation. Operating theatres had been set up in private houses in up-scale parts of the city, donors located and paid, in at least one instance, Rs150,000 for their kidney. The raiding team reportedly used sophisticated equipment to pinpoint the location of the clandestine operating theatre and the recipients, at least one of whom was mid-transplant when the raid happened, were sent to local hospitals.
Organ transplants are big business with most of the customers coming from the countries of the Arabian Peninsula or the Middle East. Pakistan has a copious supply of potential donors in the millions of poverty-stricken people that live marginal and often indebted existences. Selling a kidney is a quick way of expunging debt, paying for a wedding or funding a village start-up business. Busting the traffickers and the corrupt doctors that service this vile trade is much to be welcomed, and we support the actions of the FIA and hope they lead to successful prosecutions.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2017.