DESPITE legal safeguards being in place to crack down on the illicit organ transplantation racket, it is clear that greater vigilance is needed to permanently put gangs involved in this dubious trade out of business. In this regard, Punjab Police on Monday claimed that they had apprehended a number of suspects reportedly involved in harvesting the kidneys of brick kiln workers. The criminals enticed their poor and vulnerable victims with promises of well-paying jobs, and took them to Rawalpindi in order to conduct ‘medical tests’ required for these bogus ‘jobs’. Little did the victims know that this was just a ruse to illegally harvest their organs. Police officials said the victims were paid paltry sums of a few hundred thousand rupees for parting with their kidneys. In a similar operation, another gang led by an infamous surgeon was busted in October. The doctor running that racket had been arrested multiple times, but managed to escape the long arm of the law every time. The Punjab caretaker chief minister had told the media that this gang would charge locals Rs3m for a kidney transplant, while foreigners would have to pay Rs10m. These sums indicate that the illegal organ racket is big business.
These unscrupulous elements prey on society’s most vulnerable. While at times organs are harvested from victims without their knowledge, in other instances, people willingly part with their organs for small sums. Most are drowning in debt and rank amongst the poorest of the poor. The raids to bust gangs involved in this vile trade must continue across the country. While Pakistan has come some distance from being one of the top destinations on the ‘transplant tourism’ trail, much work remains to be done. Provincial health bodies, law-enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system must all work together to dismantle these exploitative networks, and stop them from harvesting the organs of desperate individuals.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2023