Profiteering in saving lives

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Profiteering in saving lives

Chennai has become the centre-stage for a flourishing organ racket that mainly targets the poor. The arrest of a Chennai-based medical representative in 2007 by Mumbai police for running an inter-State kidney racket also showed that the trade had gone global

When, in November last year, Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, tweeted that she was being tested for a possible kidney transplant at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences in Delhi, well-wishers flooded her timeline with numerous offers. Scores of people cutting across religion and gender expressed desire to donate their kidney to the 64-year-old politician.

However, not all kidney patients are as lucky as the Minister. For that matter, the list of patients waiting for transplants is long when compared to the number of organs/donors available in India. The situation has given rise to a booming illegal organ donation racket.

Organ donation illegalities are rampant in India. In 2003, a kidney racket was uncovered in Amritsar, where kidneys were sold between five and eight lakh rupees. In 2004, a Mumbai-based kidney racket was busted. The arrests revealed that the kingpin had deceived the hospital authorities by producing forged documents to facilitate the transplants.

Arguably Asia’s biggest kidney harvester, T Rajkumar Rao, had duped over 15,000 debt-ridden farmers, Tsunami-sufferers and impoverished tea garden workers to build a Rs 75 crore organ transplant empire before he trapped by the police along with his partner, Dipak Kar. According to Delhi Police, the duo had a 250-strong staff spread across south Asia to help them identify potential victims. The police said that Rao had confessed to supplying kidneys to more than 15 major hospitals across India; none of the hospital authorities had asked him about the donors.

Chennai has become the centre-stage for a flourishing organ racket that mainly targets the poor. The arrest of a Chennai-based medical representative in 2007 by Mumbai police for allegedly running an inter-State kidney racket showed that the illegal Indian industry had gone nationwide and also worldwide.

In 2008, a Gurgaon-based kidney racket was busted by Uttar Pradesh Police and the subsequent arrest of the suspected kingpin had exposed his links with an international racket run from Nepal, Sri Lank and Indonesia.

A recent case of organ trade racket was exposed recently by Delhi Police which arrested four persons, including a woman, for their alleged involvement in the illegal sale and purchase of kidneys. The police has claimed that they were part of a racket operating in many hospitals across several States as well as the national capital. A Delhi-based hospital is under the lens in the case.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 2,000 Indians sell a kidney every year. The WHO says South Asia hasbecome the world’s leading transplant tourism centre, with India among the top kidney exporters. Kidneys taken from Indians are delivered to Americans, Israelis, Canadians, Britishers, the Saudis and residents of the Gulf region.

In fact, a WHO statement in 2007 termed India as a “commonly known organ-exporting country”. It said organs from local donors are regularly transplanted to foreigners through sale and purchase. Although the number of foreign recipients seems to have decreased after the enactment of a law banning organ trade (the Human Organ Transplantation Act of 1994), the bulletin claimed the underground organ market remained active in India. However, this can be curbed only if cadaver organ donation is increased in the country through awareness and improved infrastructure is in place.

The situation is truly alarming, given that the demand for organ transplantation is on increase — particularly for kidney in view of the increasing diabetes burden, hypertension and growing elderly population. This is further going to increase, according to many doctors. What makes the situation worse is that, while about 10 per cent of the overall population is suffering from kidney diseases, there are merely 1,500 nephrologists in the country — a doctor-patient ratio of about 1:8,000.

Presently, myths and religious misinformation, lack of awareness, complicated processes, and hesitation by family members are some of the main reasons for the lower number of deceased donors in India.  

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