Why the Amit Kumars of the world are prospering?

February 17th, 2008 - 1:41 pm ICT by admin  

By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
New Delhi/Gurgaon, Feb 17 (IANS) There could be many more Amit Kumars cleverly exploiting the gap between rich and the poor, between those who can afford a kidney and those who can’t refuse to sell it. As the Gurgaon kidney theft scandal unravels, experts say such scams would continue unless the laws are realistic. Organ scarcity is a global feature but it’s the “poor of the developing world” that have “become a vast reservoir” of organs for the developed world, said R.R. Kishore, chairperson of the International Committee on Organ Transplantation.

“The problem lies in the human urge to survive at any cost and the unabated organ scarcity,” Kishore told IANS.

And India - where medical facilities parallel those of advanced countries but at much cheaper rates and where organs are readily available with the poor getting trapped into selling their kidneys for a price that they can’t say no to - is where many rich from the developed world come for a fresh lease of life.

According to the Voluntary Health Association of India, around 2,000 Indians sell a kidney every year - many of them to people like Amit Kumar, who is said to be behind 600 illegal transplants.

Though there is no reliable data on organ trafficking, it is widely believed to be on the increase, with brokers reportedly charging wealthy patients between $100,000 and $200,000 for a transplant. An estimated 150,000 Indians need a kidney transplant every year, but only 3,500 kidneys are legally available.

Kishore put it this way: “India is a favourite destination for organ transplantation for its lower costs and the easy availability of human organs.”

The one way out of the morass could be effecting changes in the law.

With the latest racket having its network in Britain, the US, Greece, Lebanon, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the government is speeding up efforts to draft changes in the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, which allows donation of organs between relatives but prohibits any monetary benefits to the donor.

The act also has no mention of cadaver transplantations, which is now being considered.

A proposed change in the act is swapping of vital organs between willing but incompatible donors.

The changes might be a bit late in coming, as India is widely known as an organ-exporting country, where organs are regularly transplanted to foreigners.

If India is the organ exporting country, Australia, Canada, Japan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the US are major organ importing countries, says the California-based Organs Watch.

Making the law flexible might help. Citing Iran’s example, Kishore said kidney sales there are legal and regulated and controlled by two NGOs that are endorsed by the government.

The two groups connect potential recipients and donors, and organise tests to ensure compatibility. “Recipients often offer donors employment or extra money after the transplant,” he said.

Yosuke Shimazono of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, said in an article: “Although the number of foreign recipients seems to have decreased after the enactment of a law banning organ trade, the underground organ market is still existent and resurging in India.”

“There exists a gap between the demand and supply of organs almost all over the world, leading to malpractices and illegal trade in organs. No data is available about the magnitude of the illegal trade in organs,” said Rajesh Bhatia, regional advisor for blood safety and clinical technology.

But with the huge number of people waiting for someone to donate a kidney - in the US the waiting list is 97,989 and in Europe 40,000 people are waiting for a kidney - it is safe to assume that the Amit Kumars of the world are prospering.

(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at kavita.d@ians.in)

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