Vicious circle: Poverty forcing people to sell organs

Strong nexus of powerful politicians and doctors behind illegal transplants, say medics

Ali Ousat March 09, 2018

LAHORE: Under the thick smoke billowing from the chimney of a brick kiln near Pakistan-India Wagah border, a labourer, along with his wife and four children, is busy working in the scorching heat. Each one of his peers has the visible signs of severe sunburn on their faces and other parts of the body. Their malnourished and slender bodies clearly show their financial condition.

For 12 hours’ work, they earn a mere Rs900. Besides working tooth and nail, they have to pay a loan to the brick kiln’s owner, which is definitely not an easy. Three years ago, they had to get a loan of Rs1.9 million. For that reason, Halima Bibi, the mother of four, had to sell her kidney for just Rs200,000.

Halima’s husband, Ghulam Hussain, was underweight and not fit for kidney’s transplantation. While showing her scar emerged in her lower torso, she does not feel awkward. “The poor have no respect in society,” she bemoans.

She recalls the night the brick kiln owner ransacked their one-room house and started torturing them, demanding the borrowed money.

“I had to pay his loan installment immediately, otherwise we would be forced to work as bonded labour for a few years,” she continues.

“Though I have sold my kidney, my family is still bearing the burden of the loan. No one is here to see our plight.” Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Association President Mehmood Butt, who is striving hard to bring improvement in the lives of these workers, says the selling of body parts will end until rigorous social reforms are in place.

“They all are bonded labourers. Even the government has promulgated the law to eliminate the bonded labour but it is thriving and the kidney transplant is just a small symptom of this vicious circle,” he narrates.

He adds this was a just glimpse into the lives of these people. “Their children do not go to schools. They eat unhealthy food and live in extremely poor conditions.”

“Actually, they are the most vulnerable segment of the society. Illegal kidney transplants are a huge business and the media is showing just the tip of the iceberg,” he remarks.

How does it work?

Recently, FIA busted a gang involved in the illegal kidney transplant. The group was involved in several cases at Peer Mahal and Toba Tek Singh. In these incidents, people posing as ‘doctors’ conducted the operations.

One of the suspects, Dr Kashif Riaz, still at large, is reportedly a relative (nephew) of former Punjab governor and leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chuadhry Muhammad Sarwar.

“These groups have developed a strong nexus with powerful politicians and doctors. It is very difficult to break this nefarious nexus,” FIA Deputy Director Chudhry Ijaz tells The Express Tribune.

He said these people have set up makeshift operation theatres and hospitals in smaller towns like Chung, Kamalia and Samundri and perform transplantations. “Without political will, this menace cannot be eliminated from society,” he added.

He says that mostly, the recipients of kidneys are from the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Emirates. There is only one case when a US citizen came here for transplant.

Dr Farid Ahmad Khan from Shaikh Zayed Hospital Lahore states that the government concept of imposing strict laws and amendments is wrong.

“Authorities should encourage people to donate organs after death and direct all government hospitals to carry out transplantations so that people could abolish this illegal trade,” he suggests.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2018.


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