An organ is sold every hour, WHO warns: Brutal black market on the rise again thanks to diseases of affluence
08:07 GMT, 28 May 2012
Desperate: An Indian woman shows the scar from where she sold her kidney in a black market transplant op
An organ is sold once an hour, the World Health Organisation has warned, amid fears that the illegal trade is again on the rise.
The U.N. public health body estimates that 10,000 organs are now traded every year, with figures soaring off the back of a huge rise in black market kidney transplants.
Wealthy patients are paying up to 128,500 for a kidney to gangs, often in China, India and Pakistan, who harvest the organs from desperate people for as little as 3,200.
Eastern Europe also has a huge market for illegal organ donation and last month the Salvation Army revealed it had rescued a woman brought to the UK to have her organs harvested.
With kidneys believed to make up 75 per cent of the black market in organs, experts believe the rise of diseases of affluence – like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems – is spurring the trade.
The disparity of wealth between rich countries and poor also means there is no shortage of willing customers who can pay a premium – and desperate sellers who need the cash.
Dr Luc Noel, a WHO official, told The Guardian: 'The stakes are so big, the profit that can be made so huge, that the temptation is out there.'
The WHO does not know how many of the 106,879 known transplant operations in 2010 were performed with illegally harvested organs, but Dr Noel believes the figure could be as high as 10 per cent.
A lack of law enforcement in some countries, and an inadequate legal framework in others meant that the traffickers urging poor people to part with an organ have it too easy, said Dr Noel.
A medical source with knowledge of the situation in China told the Guardian anonymously that rich foreigners mainly from the Middle East and Asia are the usual customers.
'The stakes are so big, the profit that can be made so huge, that the temptation is out there' Dr Luc Noel, WHO official
'While commercial transplantation is now forbidden by law in China, that's difficult to enforce; there's been a resurgence here in the last two or three years,' he said.
He added that some of China's military hospitals are even believed to be carrying out the operations.
Jim Feehally, professor of renal medicine at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said that the key issue was one of exploitation, with poor donors often left with no medical care to recover from the brutal operations.
'The people who gain are the rich transplant patients who can afford to buy a kidney, the doctors and hospital administrators, and the middlemen, the traffickers,' he said. 'It's absolutely wrong, morally wrong.'