Sun, Mar 12, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Poor Pakistanis selling their kidneys

UNREGULATED TRADE Rich, sickly foreigners have flocked to Pakistan to get new organs, while donors find they have sold their health to pay off their debts

AP , ISLAMABAD

Tariq Masih, 22, a Pakistani Christian, sold his kidney to save the ailing mother but was unaware of the hazards it would cause for his own life.

Masih is one of the thousands of Pakistanis who sell their kidneys either to pay off debts or simply to get some money.

An agent from Rawalpindi persuaded him to sell his kidneys to repay a debt of 28,000 Pakistani rupees (US$465) he had borrowed from his landlord for treatment for his mother. She passed away but the debt stayed.

Since his daily wages average about US$2.5 and barely cover his rations and the paltry clothing, he eventually came to Rawalpindi and sold his kidney to a local hospital.

"I am still in debt -- 16,000 rupees," Tariq said.

The lack of stringent laws to check illegal trading of the organ in Pakistan has led to mushrooming of clinics and hospitals which have been involved in luring poor people into the "lucrative but heinous" business of selling and buying kidneys.

No clearance is required from the health authorities for transplants, and that seems to have turned Pakistan into a center for the organ trade, especially for foreigners, mostly Arabs, as well as for wealthy Pakistanis with irreparable kidneys.

Thousands of people in small villages around Masih's ancestral Faisalabad city in eastern Punjab, have either disposed off one of their kidneys or waiting for one to be removed.

The price ranges between 50,000 and 104,000 rupees.

The total cost for a kidney transplant is around 400,000 rupees.

But the cost for foreigners interested in buying a kidney is at least twice as much. Scores of unscrupulous surgeons, mostly running their own hospitals in all major Pakistani cities, charge up to US$14,000 from the buyers.

The dirty business of kidney selling and buying is done with fake names. Even Masih was never registered with his real name for the operation. Since he is illiterate, he wouldn't know even otherwise.

"Should I tell you my real name or the one entered in the register of the kidney hospital," he asked, adding, he was operated upon as Mohammad Arif, son of Rehmat Ali.

Poverty and inability to pay off debt forced another poor resident of a village near Faisalabad to sell his kidney.

"Poverty forced me to sell one of my kidneys to an Arab recipient," said Pervaiz, the father of four children.

But Ehsan from a small village near Okara town received only 35,000 rupees -- less than a third of the promised 110,000 rupees. He limps around in the village with his scarred and frail body.

Experts in the ministry of law are currently giving final touches to a draft law intended to curb the inhumane business.

"The draft law, which is currently being vetted by legal experts envisages stern punishments including heavy fines and imprisonment to all those involved in the organs trade," Health Secretary Anwar Mehmud said.

Mehmud said under the new law, only relatives of a patient such as parents, husband or wife and brothers or sisters will be allowed to donate kidneys.

"A committee comprising officials and surgeons will ensure that no one is forced into donating kidneys especially to those patients, who do not have any heirs," he said.

He said the government is aware that that many Pakistani surgeons are also involved in the business.

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