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Illegal Organ Trafficking Poses A Global Problem

The recent New Jersey corruption probe, which resulted in the arrest of 44 people including state legislators, government officials and several rabbis for running an international money laundering racket that trafficked human organs, has brought Israel into the spotlight for organ transplants. Despite some growing awareness, the international organ trade industry is not well understood due to lack of information and the widespread nature of the problem.

According to theWorld Health Organization (WHO), the search for organs has intensified around the world because of an increase in kidney diseases and not enough available kidneys. Only 10 percent of the estimated need was met in 2005. As a result, the illegal kidney trade has increased tremendously over the past couple of years with the extent of illegal kidney transplants unknown even to the WHO.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, founding director of Organs Watch, an academic research project that deals with organ transplants at the University of California, Berkeley, has said that a conservative estimate would put the number of trafficked kidneys at 15,000 each year.

Outside of Israel, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, India and Iraq are some of the biggest players in the game. Organ trafficking is illegal in all these countries. The seller generally earns between $2,000 to $6,000 for a kidney, though post operation care is almost never taken into account. Unaware of all the risks involved, the donors often find themselves even worse off than before the operation, and with little or no money left to help them live.

Poverty and corruption are underlying themes behind sellers giving up their organs as most donors see it as the only option to make money. For most buyers, who have been waiting on transplant lists for months, desperate need and frustration push them to commit the illegal act. Often, they are told that the men and women they are buying the kidneys from are perfectly healthy and in good shape.

In some parts of India, poor people use their kidneys as collateral for money lenders. Lawrence Cohen, UC Berkeley professor of anthropology, has documented that the kidneys in the region are often sold to the wealthy in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Gulf states, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Cohen, in a press release published by U.C. Berkeley states that while most people sold their kidneys to get out of debt, they were back in debt very shortly.


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