Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kidney sales and trafficking

There have been a number of recent stories about criminal organ-trafficking rings around the world.  Here's a long quote from the one that seems most credible, from Bloomberg (in which Frank Delmonico is among those quoted), followed by links to two related stories.

Organ Gangs Force Poor to Sell Kidneys for Desperate Israelis
"Aliaksei Yafimau shudders at the memory of the burly thug who threatened to kill his relatives. Yafimau, who installs satellite television systems in Babrujsk, Belarus, answered an advertisement in 2010 offering easy money to anyone willing to sell a kidney.
He saw it as a step toward getting out of poverty. Instead, Yafimau, 30, was thrust into a dark journey around the globe that had him, at one point, locked in a hotel room for a month in Quito, Ecuador, waiting for surgeons to cut out an organ, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December issue.
"Organ trafficking is on the rise, as desperate people seek transplants in a world that doesn’t have enough donors. About 5,000 people sell organs on the black market each year, according to Francis Delmonico, an adviser on transplants to the World Health Organization.
It’s against the law to buy or sell an organ in every country except Iran, says Delmonico, who is president-elect of the Montreal-basedTransplantation Society, which lobbies governments to crack down on illicit procedures.

‘Exploit Shortages’

“There have been successes fighting organ trafficking around the world,” Delmonico says. “But organ trafficking continues to flourish because criminals exploit shortages of organ donors.”
Bloomberg Markets reported in June that U.S. citizens and others from the Americas suffering from kidney failure were going to Nicaragua and Peru to buy organs in a shadowy trade that injured and killed donors and recipients.
That U.S.-Latin American connection is dwarfed by a network of organ-trafficking organizations whose reach extends from former Soviet Republics such as Azerbaijan, Belarus and Moldova to Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa and beyond, a Bloomberg Markets investigation shows.
Many of the black-market kidneys harvested by these gangs are destined for people who live in Israel.
"Delmonico, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, has spent the past six years lobbying governments and doctors around the world to combat organ trafficking. He says Israel’s government is cracking down.
The Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, passed the Organ Transplant Law in 2008, setting penalties, including imprisonment of up to three years, for buying and selling organs and requiring hospitals to scrutinize transplants by nonrelatives and foreigners.

Breaking up Gangs

In an effort to draw more legal organ donors, the law also offers volunteers compensation for lost wages and travel expense and provides them with additional health insurance. Israeli police have been among the most aggressive in the world against organ traffickers, breaking up three international gangs since 2008.
The government has also banned insurers from funding most transplants outside Israel.
The dearth of available organs in Israel has spawned a new class of criminals, mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, says Jerusalem Police Superintendent Gilad Bahat.
Investigators on five continents say they have uncovered intertwining criminal rings run by Israelis and eastern Europeans that move people across borders -- sometimes against their will -- to sell a kidney.
“The criminal here is the middleman who profits from the sick and the poor,” says Bahat, who investigated an organ- trafficking ring in Jerusalem. “It touches my heart that people will sell part of their body because they need money to live.”
"The Brazilian case is still wending its way through international courts. In November 2010 in Durban, Netcare Ltd. (NTC) -- South Africa’s largest hospital company -- pleaded guilty to violating the Human Tissue Act, which prohibits buying and selling organs.
Netcare paid 7.8 million rand ($848,464) in fines and penalties. It admitted to allowing 92 transplants in which donors from Brazil, Israel and Romania sold kidneys to Israeli patients. Four doctors are awaiting trial on trafficking charges.
In Brazil, 12 people connected to the Netcare case were convicted and jailed, with sentences from 15 months to 11 years.
In Kosovo, Ratel, who has dual citizenship in Canada and Great Britain and was appointed by the European Union to help restore the country’s criminal justice system, is overseeing a pivotal organ-trafficking case. It includes participants and victims from Belarus, Moldova, Turkey and four other countries.

Center for Trafficking

The EU has administered the courts in Kosovo since 2008, the year the country the size ofConnecticut declared independence from Serbia after a civil war. Ratel, who arrived in March 2010 as part of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, says the country has become a center for organ trafficking.
Ratel built a case against nine doctors, hospital administrators and recruiters on charges of buying and selling kidneys for patients in Georgia, Germany, Israel, Poland and Ukraine, as well as Canada and the United States.
"“This is organized crime,” Ratel says. “There is significant coercion and threats of violence.”
Organ traffickers search the world for hospitals willing to perform illicit transplants. Sometimes, sellers are flown to cities just to wait for procedures, and then traffickers move them to other parts of the globe when they find a recipient and a hospital willing to cooperate.
While the illegal organ trade may be run by seasoned criminals, it depends on the complicity of doctors and hospitals, says Oleg Liashko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament.
“I doubt this could happen without the hospital and doctors knowing about it,” says Liashko, who has investigated organ trafficking and is calling for more-severe criminal penalties in organ transplant laws. “They either know or look the other way because of the money involved. This is corruption, pure and simple.”
Here's a story that follows up on the U.S. side: Kidney Broker Said to Use Johns Hopkins in Organ-Traffic Case

And here's a graphic (but probably less credible) story from Egypt: Refugees face organ theft in the Sinai

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