Bhalwal: When Pakistani authorities burst into a makeshift hospital in Lahore this year, doctors were caught mid-way through two illegal kidney transplants, the local donors and Omani clients still unconscious on the tables. The doctors were allowed to finish the operation then arrested, along with their assistants and the Omanis, in a raid Pakistani authorities say is a turning point in their battle against organ trafficking. Pakistan has long been an international hub for the illegal kidney but medical and local authorities complain they have been unable to act against the practice, frustrated by ineffective enforcement policies and what they perceive as a lack of political will to crack down.
Organ donation is legal so long as it is voluntary, given without duress or the exchange of money. Pakistani clerics have ruled it Islamic, but a lack of awareness and the pervasive belief that it is taboo for Muslims mean there is a shortage of those willing to donate. The limited supply, observers say, sees Pakistan’s wealthy routinely exploit its millions of poor with the help of an organ trade mafia. Kidneys can be bought so cheaply that overseas buyers are also tapped in, largely from Gulf, Africa and the United Kingdom. In many countries such trafficking is confined to the shadows, in Pakistan — it is brazen. Within minutes of an AFP reporter entering the lobby of an upmarket general hospital in the capital Islamabad, staff had helped him find a so-called “agent” who offered to get a donor and facilitate government approval for a kidney transplant, all for a tidy $23,000. The government’s Human Organs Transplant Authority (HOTA) says it is toothless. If a donor claims the give their consent, “there is nothing else we can do”, says Dr Suleman Ahmed, a HOTA monitoring officer.
Thakur, Savita. Pakistani Doctors caught mid way doing illegal kidney transplants. Medical Dialogues, June 29, 2017.