(AFP) – Jan 29, 2008
GURGAON, India (AFP) — Shakeel Ahmed, 28, walks about listlessly in a room at a government hospital as three policemen watch over him.
"I've been told to move about to help my digestion. Before I would feel dizzy," said the construction worker, whose kidney was removed last week in what is said to be India's biggest organ trading scandal.
Ahmed is one of three men who had been operated on to remove a kidney when police raided a hospital last week in Gurgaon, a New Delhi satellite city.
Police swooped on several other hospitals and residences in the capital's suburbs where they said more than 500 illegal kidney transplants had been performed in the past decade.
A doctor and several middlemen were arrested and police are still looking for the suspected mastermind of the network of medical workers and touts.
Mohammed Salim, 35, who was found at the same hospital as Ahmed, said he was unaware of the looming danger when one such tout offered him construction work along with accommodation.
Like Ahmed, he said he was brought by bus to New Delhi from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state and taken by car to a house in a forested area after which he was shifted to another house where his blood swab was taken.
"There were two gunmen there. When I asked them about the blood swab, they gave me an injection after which I don't remember anything," Salim said, adding he felt pain on regaining consciousness.
"I saw a man with a green mask. He said: 'We have removed your kidney. If you tell anyone, we will kill you'."
Ahmed's story is virtually the same except that he says he was threatened at gunpoint into submission instead of being given an injection.
Doctors running the illegal operation are believed to have charged up to two million rupees (50,000 dollars) for a kidney from clients from across the globe, according to Gurgaon police.
An illegal donor can expect to be paid anything above 40,000 rupees (1,000 dollars) in the black market.
While the poor workers insist they were forced to give away their kidneys, experts say the likelihood is they sold their organs -- which is against the law -- and fear they would be prosecuted if they owned up.
"In most cases, poor workers are paid for the kidney but if they get caught, they say they were conned," said Dr Sunil Shroff, who founded the non-profit Multi Organ Harvesting Aid Network (MOHAN), a group that promotes organ donation.
Under India's "Transplantation of Human Organs Act", kidney transplants are allowed only if the organ is donated by a blood relative or spouse, or there is a swap agreement between two needy families.
All transplants must be cleared by the government.
But India's illegal organ market thrives because of rampant poverty, with poor people willing to sell their organ as demand far outstrips supply.
Some 100,000 kidneys are needed in India each year, according to MOHAN, but a majority of people can't afford a transplant even if they had a kidney donated.
India is said to have a huge number of people suffering from hypertension and diabetes -- two major causes of kidney failure.
Experts say the government must promote organ donation to check the illegal trade as now only one body per two million people is donated for organ transplants.
"If we could raise the number to two bodies per million people in this country which has a billion-plus people, it would take care of a lot of demand," Shroff said.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss promised Tuesday that the government would change the law to make organ donation simpler and punishment harsher for trafficking.
Currently, a doctor can be jailed for just two years if found guilty of carrying out illegal transplants.
The illegal donors at the Gurgaon hospital say their livelihoods are at stake as they fear the surgery will hurt their health.
"We're used to doing tough construction jobs. How will I cope?" Salim said.
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