THE illegal kidney trade in Pakistan has reached such dimensions that eliminating it is a difficult task. For at least the past decade, this country — the cities of Lahore and Rawalpindi particularly — has been a destination for medical ‘tourism’, attracting people who hope to have a kidney transplant faster and more cheaply than elsewhere. What constitutes a life-giving opportunity for the recipients is in most cases gross exploitation of the ‘donors’: generally men and women forced by desperate poverty to sell their organs, even though the bulk of the money goes into the pockets of the doctors and agents that scour the rural areas (mainly in Punjab) for those who may be induced into giving up a kidney.
While legislation criminalising this practice was for too long delayed, the Transplantation of Organs and Tissue Act 2010 has been on the books for two years now and the sale and purchase of organs is criminalised. Arrests have been made in this regard. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that the organ trafficking industry is growing. Sporadic raids have netted a few of those involved, but there is nowhere near the sort of push that is required to effectively shut this industry down. Worryingly, on Thursday the police in Bosnia-Herzegovina reported a Montenegrin suspect for mediating between three Bosnian kidney patients and doctors in Lahore last year. Reportedly, the patients were taken to facilities that did not appear to be legal health centres, and none of them received any medical care after the surgery. One of the patients died en route to Bosnia. Clearly, this criminal enterprise is spreading beyond the country’s borders. We need to make a serious effort towards reversing this trend. We do not need the stigma of organ trafficking added to our unenviable reputation. More importantly, the people being exploited are our own.