Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Poverty forces organ selling in Egypt

We often hear of organ trafficking in other countries, but this is the first that we can recollect seeing a story about the practice in Egypt.

Not only do experts blame poverty, but also the dialysis and health centers that are run down. Some are so unclean that patients run the risk of getting other diseases just by taking dialysis.

This story from IRIN, exposes the problem of organ selling in Egypt, while showing us the case of one of the organ buyers.

In today’s Egypt, a human kidney can be bought illegally for less than US $5,000. A desperate donor sold his to Fawziya (not her real name) for as much. But even paying that sum of money did not cure the patient.

In Egypt, prior to any transplant, the Doctors’ Syndicate must conduct an investigation and only when a specialised committee has given approval can a transplant take place.

Fawziya from Upper Egypt suffers from kidney failure in both kidneys. With no relatives with matching tissue, Fawziya found herself with two options: to continue undergoing dialysis at run-down government health centres, or seek an unrelated donor willing to give up a kidney in exchange for money. She opted for the latter.

In Fawziya’s case the laboratory managed to bribe a member of the committee to approve the operation. “The laboratory had a contact in the syndicate, and we got the approval that way,” Mohamed said. “The doctors treating my mother were all paid, but my mother’s still sick.”

“Now she’s very, very sick,” said Mohamed, her son. “The transplant failed. Within hours of the operation, doctors discovered that her body had rejected the kidney. She is back on dialysis, and has no intention of undergoing surgery again.”

According to Mohamed, Fawziya had received a kidney from a donor from Cairo. The transplant was arranged by a privately-run clinic that officially operates as a laboratory. “We paid a total of US $15,600 for the entire procedure,” he said. “The kidney alone cost US $4,335.” Much of the family’s life savings, therefore, went to waste as a result of the failed operation.

Strict rules, little enforcement

In Egypt, only live organs can be transplanted, according to one health ministry spokesman speaking on condition of anonymity. “Traditionally, Islam prohibits the transplant of body organs from the deceased,” he explained.

Given the genuine risk of patients paying donors for organs, the syndicate has attempted to apply numerous rules aimed at minimising organ trafficking. In 1996, for example, a decree passed by the syndicate forbade patients from receiving organs from unrelated donors. “Only those who are related up to the fourth degree are allowed to donate organs to a given patient,” said syndicate head Hamdi al-Sayyid.

Additionally, in order to curb the purchase of organs from poor Egyptians by wealthy Arabs, foreigners are not allowed to receive organs from Egyptian donors. “The decree prohibits foreigners from receiving implants from Egyptians,” al-Sayyid explained.

There is, however, no law regulating transplants, rendering it difficult to monitor the situation at every level. According to al-Sayyid, a draft law was recently presented to the People’s Assembly by the syndicate, which is currently being deliberated by the upper house of parliament. “The draft includes provisions allowing for transplants from the recently deceased, which is allowed in numerous other Muslim countries,” al-Sayyid said. He added that the draft law enjoyed the support of the Grand Mufti of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the most respected seat of religious jurisprudence in the world of Sunni Islam.

The draft also sets down penalties for doctors involved in carrying out illegal transplants. “We’re hoping for the law to be passed as soon as possible so that doctors and institutions involved in the trafficking can be punished,” said al-Sayyid, adding that the draft will subject offenders to possible prison sentences and licence revocations.

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