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EGYPT: Selling a kidney to survive
An Egyptian man who sold his kidney
CAIRO, 16 December 2008 (IRIN) - In the darkest alleys of Shubra, a district in Cairo, illegal organ traffickers hunt down destitute young Egyptians to try to persuade them to sell a kidney for less than US$3,000.
“It is a risk-free operation - that was what the broker told me as he talked to me about selling my kidney for good fast cash,” recalled Idris, 33, a labourer who he sold his kidney seven months ago for 12,000 Egyptian pounds (about $2,225) to an Arab tourist he never met.
Since he parted with his kidney, Idris’s life has changed: “I get tired very quickly and I cannot work as much as I could before. The money I made from this deal is finished,” he told IRIN in Cairo.
Idris is one of many donors who find themselves worse off than before the operation.
According to a study by the Coalition for Organ Failure Solutions (COFS), which combats organ trafficking, 78 percent of Egyptian donors suffer a deterioration in health after surgery, while 73 percent experience a weakened ability to perform labour-intensive jobs.
No official data is available on the actual numbers of donors. Amr Mustafa from COFS said that while organ donors number in the thousands, it is difficult to track them down because they feel stigmatised.
“This is precisely why we are teamed up with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) to help reach out to the victims of organ trafficking,” Amr Mustafa said.
Another issue is the clandestine nature of the organ trafficking business.
“No one wants to approach the issue of human organ trafficking in Egypt because trafficking is a huge source of wealth,” Muhammad Ghoeneim, a pioneer in kidney transplants in the Middle East, said.
Kabir Karim from COFS agreed: “Organ trafficking has become such a profit-thirsty business, with doctors collaborating with brokers in trading human body parts. Of course, everyone making money wants to keep doing so. Ethical oversight is very much needed.”
|No one wants to approach the issue of human organ trafficking in Egypt because trafficking is a huge source of wealth.
A government crackdown on organ traffickers, donors and medical centres in several districts of Cairo in mid-November shone a spotlight on organ trafficking in Egypt, which is ranked the third worst country in terms of organ trafficking and transplantation, according to Deputy Health Minister Saad al-Maghrabi.
Health Ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman Shahin said the ministry had stepped up surveillance in collaboration with the Governmental Free Medical Centre, the only branch of the Ministry with the legal powers to arrest on the spot those suspected of organ trafficking or illegal transplantations.
“The Centre consists of a team whose job is to track down organ brokers and donors, and raid polyclinics and hospitals allowing these operations to take place without any certification,” said Shahin.
"The Centre sends out scouts who sit at coffee shops, where brokers target potential donors and seal deals. They also visit hospitals to monitor the number of transplants to make sure they are medically certified by the ministry, otherwise they are illegal," Shahin said.
Breaking the law
Organ brokers now reportedly operate in some shantytowns in the outskirts of Cairo, despite laws regulating organ transplants in Egypt
“The standing law allows for transplants to be carried out by both private and public hospitals and medical centres. As demand for organ transplants outstrips supply, we have witnessed a monstrous transformation where organ traffickers, doctors and lab technicians break the law both within public hospitals and in private medical centres,” Shahin said.
|Organ brokers now reportedly operate in some shantytowns in the outskirts of Cairo, despite laws regulating organ transplants in Egypt
A proposed amendment to the law bans private clinics and medical centres from carrying out transplant operations.
“As long as transplants are carried out in private centres, we don’t have medical practice. We have business practice. And that is unethical,” Shahin said.
However, according to Karim of COFS, the issue goes beyond a mere amendment to the law: “COFS is definitely in support of this new amendment... However, if we want to tackle the problem at source and find ethical solutions to organ trafficking, we must consider other measures.”
Experts say the solution to organ trafficking might lie in post-death donations. However, this is looked upon by many as unethical and uncustomary, Karim said. “Donating your loved one’s organs after death is difficult for religious and cultural reasons.”