TRANSPLANT TOURISM: Rich travel to poor countries, buy their organs

“Transplant tourism” is on the rise because organ donations are not keeping up with growing demand, especially for kidneys, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The United Nations agency said it was concerned about a rise in cases where people in countries such as Pakistan, Egypt and the Philippines were persuaded to sell their body parts to outsiders, mostly through a broker.

The practice has increased over the past decade, said Luc Noel of the WHO’s health technology and pharmaceuticals unit.

“We believe 5 to 10 percent of all kidneys transplanted were in 2005 transplanted in this setting,” he told a news conference in Geneva, home to the WHO’s headquarters.

Transplantation is increasingly regarded as the best solution to end-stage organ failure, according to the WHO.

Jeremy Chapman, a physician at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Australia, said medical advances in transplantation surgery have resulted in surging demand from those needing new kidneys, livers, hearts, corneas and bone marrow.

Long waiting lists for organs from cadavers have caused frustrated patients to look overseas for new sources, he said.

“The wealthy, in search of their own survival, will sometimes seek organs from the poor,” Chapman said after experts convened by the WHO recommended stricter organ donation and transplantation rules to confront the practice.

Farhat Moazam of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation in Karachi, Pakistan, said increasing numbers were traveling to her country to buy kidneys.

“There are villages that are in the poorer parts of Pakistan where as many as 40 to 50 percent of the population of the village we know only has one kidney,” Moazam told the briefing.

She said donors are often promised as much as 150,000 rupees ($2,500) for an organ but may only get a fraction of that after brokers’ fees and associated medical costs are paid.

It is possible for healthy individuals to donate organs and tissues which they can live without, such as a kidney, part of the liver, blood or bone marrow. Living donations regularly take place in developed countries, most often between relatives.

Noel said many of those who sell their organs and tissues do not receive adequate follow-up medical care, increasing their health risks.

By Laura MacInnis

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