Friday, February 22, 2008

'Dr Kidney' Arrest Exposes Indian Organ Traffic

From the Asia Times:

MUMBAI - The arrest of "Doctor Kidney" Amit Kumar for running a sizeable racket in live kidneys has highlighted the role that South Asia plays as the hub of an international trade in human organs.

A sophisticated but unregulated healthcare industry, a "donor pool" of desperately poor people ready to sell a kidney, and a corrupt monitoring system have combined to create a special brand of "medical tourism" in the region, especially in India and neighboring Pakistan.

While India's 1994 Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THOA) is observed mostly in the breach, the impact of Pakistan's Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance passed in 2007 is yet to be gauged. Until last year, the organ trade was legal and flourished openly in that country.

Top transplant surgeons are collaborating with criminal organ trafficking networks to target the desperate, noted Nancy Scheper-Hughes, founding director of Organs Watch, an academic research project at the University of California, Berkeley, while speaking at the Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking this month.

"The latest arrests reveal a global network larger in scale than any other one," said Dr Samiran Nundy, gastroenterological surgeon at the prestigious Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi. Nundy was one of the architects of India's transplantation laws that should have put an end to paid transplants in this country. The THOA was the result of activism by a small group of conscientious medical professionals appalled by the trade.

Kumar is accused of luring poor laborers to his "hospital" in the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon with promises of job offers or large sums of money. Typically, they were promised 300,000 rupees (US$7,500) but paid only 30,000 ($750) after the surgery, police said.

He is alleged to have conducted more than 500 transplants over an unspecified period, charging up to $50,000 dollars for each operation. Investigators say his patients came from Britain, the United States, Turkey, Nepal, Dubai, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

The racket first came to light on January 24 when police raided Kumar's hospital following a complaint by a "donor" who had been paid less than the amount promised. At his hospital police found recipients recovering from surgery and arrested a number of doctors, nurses and support staff.

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