The Gale of Organ Trafficking: What You Need to Know
By: Hamza-Afeez Eniola Onireke
Recently, a brother narrated to me how he lost a friend to organ market in an organised human trafficking scandal. Here we go… He surfed the internet, landed on the site, applied for a fully-funded scholarship in an European country and waited for the best result.
Hopefully he won it and the ambitious graduate happily informed his parent and loved ones about the good news. They enthusiastically supported and consented to his trip abroad. He joined other beneficiaries and darted out for the Airport. They left; flew with high altitude and landed in their destination. They alighted and were given warmth reception in a conducive environment. In the eve of the very same day of arrival, the unbelievable happened! No sooner had they gulped some wines than they found themselves in the pool of their own bloods with a stitched up cuts down their sides—one of their two kidneys had been severed from their feeble bodies. They had been sedated through their drinks. The medical personnel hired by their purported sponsors had done their work! Notes and some meager amount of dollars were left behind for them to move on with their miserable lives—if they could survive.
Sadly, due to serious health complications he sustained, the brother which had earlier revealed his ordeal to his family in Nigeria, later gave up the ghost. He died bitterly. Painfully. The scholarship link, web, offices—everything disappeared and without any trace.
That being said, according to a report by the United Nations, Illegal organ trafficking is an organised crime involving a host of players: a recruiter who identifies the vulnerable person, the desperate seller, the organ transporter, hospital or clinic staff and medical professionals, middlemen and contractors, buyers and organ banks where the organs are stored for potential buyers.
It is easy to think of Illegal organ trade as existing only in movies but that is not the case. Some 5-10% of organ transplants worldwide are undertaken with criminal intent, according to the World Trade Organization. And while the reality may not necessarily be that of a victim waking up in a bath full of ice with a stitched-up cut down their side, just like the opening story of this piece—the real story is not far off.
Pointedly, the trading in organ occurs in three broad categories:
The first scenario involves traffickers forcing or tricking victims into giving up their organs. Secondly, victims formally or informally agree to sell an organ and then cheated by not being paid(or being paid less than promised). Thirdly, vulnerable persons— such as migrants(as the case of the Nigerian migrants in Libya’s; the human auctioning early this year), homeless or the illiterate— are treated for an ailment which may or may not exist and their organs removed without their knowledge.
Just as we have people falling victims of organs trafficking, many had sought interest in letting go of their organs for a price and the internet has become a powerful tool for them, especially those willing to sell their kidneys. There are messages boards with hundreds of potential sellers who have posted ads such as “I want to sell my kidney for FINANCIAL REASON. I’m 33 years old. Weight 70kg, my blood group is O+”, etc. In contrast, people in urgent need of organs are often not in a position to wait the long donor queue, hence, some took to the black market and online traders to source the organs they so desperately need to survive. On the other side, desperately poor people offered their kidneys for sale and, as findings would have it, the only winners are the scammers in the middle. Down the memory lane, it may interest you to know that in 1954, the kidney was the first human organ to be transplanted successfully. Liver, heart and pancreas transplants were successfully performed by the late 1960s, while lung and intestinal organ transplant procedures were begun in the 1980s.
Be that as it may, in one of my recent posts, I said, according to scientific research, “One kidney, one testicle, one ovary, one lung, one eye- can all do the job. Everything in the human body is theoretically replaceable with machines and seemingly transplantable except the BRAIN”. This scientific theory must have been one of the criteria for which the desperate sellers or willing donor of organs formed their convictions. They must have made up their minds that, after all, they could still survive with one of the ‘paired organs’ without minding the resultant long term health challenges they would have to subject their lives to. Here, the humanitarian donor, on the contrary, experiences less risk than the black market desperado.
More so, it should be acknowledged that of all these ‘paired organs’, kidneys and livers are the highest in demand. In the case of human kidneys, where there’s a worldwide average asking price, $5,000 goes for a kidney. While some Nigerians have been scammed by organ traffickers who pose as travel agents, for sums, ranging from three to five million naira, some have travelled to health tourist destinations oversea to sell their organs such as kidneys livers and recently— bone marrows.
Generally speaking, countries of the South America, Southern Africa, North Africa, Middle East and some parts of West Africa are the regions with the highest numbers of donors/sellers while North America, Europe and Australia are the parts of the world with highest recipients. No doubt, organ trafficking is increasingly going hand-in-hand with human trafficking.
Globally, there have been cases of nations stemming the gale of illegal organs trade plummeting their social system. In September 2014, an Italian Police Investigation revealed that a gang of human traffickers accepted migrants’ organs as payments for smuggling them into Europe from North Africa. They were all apprehended and justice was meted out to them. Similarly, the Egyptian government arraigned 41 citizens to court for illegally harvesting organs from unsuspecting victims. The same measure is obtainable in the US and a number of European countries.
Of truth, illegal trade in organs is nothing but a grievous evil against humanity and as such, should be frowned upon by every sane and responsible government. People seeking medical attention should be extra-careful not to fall victims of unscrupulous medical personnel who seize the opportunity created by sedation or anesthesia to remove their organs without their knowledge or consent. Desperate people in need of foreign scholarships or better lives abroad should be very careful so as not to fall in wrong hands. Equally, a clarion call to the Nigerian government to reequip our teaching hospitals up to international standard. Maintenance culture should be entrenched and our doctors need to be up to date. If Nigerian hospitals can boast of state-of-the-art health facilities, the mad-rush to seek medical tourism abroad would be drastically reduced; and the level of vulnerability to illegal organ harvesting would be curbed. Conclusively, to reduce the proliferation of illegal organ trade, our economy need to be revamped from its dwindling state. Standard of living should be immensely improved so that poverty and frustration would not force Nigerians into the suicidal economic mission of selling their organs for survival.
©Hamza-Afeez Eniola Onireka.
Nov. 10, 2018.