Transplant tourism: Jobless Spaniards sell kidneys

A MACABRE traffic associated with poor countries in Asia and Latin America has sprung up for the first time in western Europe as the credit crunch reduces Spaniards to selling organs to “transplant tourists”.

Spanish “kidney for sale” advertisements have proliferated recently on the internet as people struggle to make ends meet in a country whose 17% unemployment rate is the highest in Europe.

Sergio, a 42-year-old welder and father of four, said he had received an offer of £20,000 from a German couple who needed his kidney for their five-year-old son. If tests showed them to be compatible, an operation would be performed in a “third country” since such transactions are illegal in Europe.

“Apparently, there’s a waiting list of at least five years for a kidney in Germany,” he told a television programme, “but in five years the kid will be dead.”

Just to advertise a human organ for sale is illegal in Spain and other sellers sounded nervous when contacted last week on the telephone by The Sunday Times.

Alberto, an unemployed construction worker in Valencia with two small children, said he was afraid of ending up on the street because he could no longer pay his mortgage.

“The bank is on my back,” he said. “If I could think of some other way of raising the money, believe me, I would.”

His biggest fear was that he might fall into the hands of professional traffickers who might operate on him without paying.

He said the price of £150,000 was negotiable but he wanted at least half of the money up-front before going under the knife. He said he had not yet received any offers.

Spanish medical experts said that prices in Spain were much higher than in countries outside Europe. For instance, a kidney can be acquired in Pakistan or Brazil for £1,000. Transplant tourism has been thriving in many Asian and South American countries for years.

Some buyers might prefer a kidney from Europe in the belief that it is healthier than one from the Third World. However, a doctor in a hospital outside Europe would have to perform the operation, said Rafael Matesanz, director of Spain’s national transplant office.

“In general, transplant tourists prefer a complete package,” he added.

This did not stop Edgar, a 44-year-old mechanic who lost his job in August last year, from placing an advertisement for his kidney on the internet in the hope of paying off debts of £90,000.

Kidney problems affect about 10% of the global adult population and there are 2m new cases of renal failure each year. Sufferers can die within a few weeks unless they receive a kidney transplant or undergo dialysis, an expensive procedure for cleansing the blood.

The World Health Organisation estimates that about 70,000 kidney transplants are performed each year, of which 20% are carried out on the black market in countries including China, Pakistan, Egypt and Colombia.

Facua, a Spanish consumers’ association, has recently reported dozens of internet organ advertisements to the police and an investigation has been opened in Seville into a man who offered a kidney for sale. The practice is likely to grow, however.

“The explanation most often given is economic necessity,” said Ruben Sanchez, a spokesman for the association.

“In a time of economic crisis such as the one we are living through, we think it will be a growing phenomenon.”

May 10, 2009
Matthew Campbell

Source: Times Online

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