Seen from a global perspective the trafficking in human organs is big business. There has been a dramatic rise since the global financial crisis of 2008 and there are media reports of $100,000 — $200,000 being paid by wealthy Middle-Eastern and European clients needing a transplant, with kidneys making up two-thirds of all organs transplanted globally. Given the desperate poverty of many people in Pakistan it is unsurprising that the organ traffickers are active here and the arrest in Rawalpindi of three members of a gang said to be involved in the illegal kidney trade probably represents the tip of a large iceberg.
The gang was traced after a man who had sold one of his kidneys went to the police, complaining that he had not been paid the sum he was due to receive. In this instance the crime was compounded as the defective kidneys of the man to whom he had donated his healthy ones were transplanted into the donor — leaving him a very uncertain future and a virtual surety of an early painful death. The police were able to identify the cell phone of the leader of the gang and then trace the numbers held in its memory thus leading to the arrests. The modus operandi of the gang was simple and effective. They would visit poor neighbourhoods and persuade people to sell their organs on the promise of large sums of money, which did not always materialise.
Dozens are thought to have fallen into the clutches of this particular gang and some are going to give evidence against them. This gruesome trade operates on the margins of the legitimate organ transplant culture, where donors and recipients are carefully screened and matched and follow-up treatment ensures the best outcome for both. Poverty is the engine that drives the illegal transplant business and there are always going to be wealthy buyers willing to circumvent the law and exploit those poorer than themselves — with Pakistan a market ripe for cultivation.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2013.