Increasing demand for donated organs, uncontrolled trafficking and the challenges of transplantation has fuelled an underground market of unscrupulous traffickers who hunt for potential donors willing to sell their body parts for money.
Economically and socially vulnerable Egyptians have resorted to selling their body parts for as little as $1000 to gain financially but instead end up facing ongoing health complications that often result in disease and death.
“They are monstrous,” said one donor who sold his kidney in hopes of getting money to start a better life in Libya. “I was approached by one simsar- organ broker—who told me I could sell my kidney and make 12,000 pounds ($2,175). I was desperate to leave Egypt to find work abroad. He assured me it was a risk-free operation and that I would recover quickly and travel. I wish I never listened to him!”
Selim Bekry, who requested his real name not be used, is a 32-year-old laborer from Suhaj who moved to Cairo two years ago to find work. Like many disenfranchised Egyptians, he sought to start a new life abroad but needed money first. Others like him have fallen victims to organ trafficking brokers who target people in vulnerable social and economic states.
Amr Mustafa from the Coalition for Organ-Failure Solutions in Egypt (COFS) told al-Arabiya.net that while organ donors numbers are in the thousands, it is difficult to track these people down because they feel stigmatized.
“Victims of donor trafficking seldom come to us for help, although we offer them free medical follow-up after their operations and other social support,”he told al-Arabiya.net. “They don’t believe we offer this service for free. After what they go through, they are not willing to trust anyone with their bodies.”
Because of its clandestine nature, the scale of organ trafficking is difficult to assess. Abdel Rahman Shahin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in Egypt noted the ministry has implemented surveillance efforts in collaboration with its Free Treatment Section and the Doctors’ Syndicate, including arresting underground traffickers and fighting the black market.
“The MOH works diligently to hunt down organ trafficking centers in Egypt. Organ brokers have shifted their business away from certified hospitals and moved to shady areas in shantytowns and impoverished placed in the outskirts of Cairo,” Shahin told AlArabiya.net.
“The Ministry of Health sends out scouts who sit at coffee shops, where brokers target potential donors and seal deals. These scouts have legal right to arrest doctors or donors involved in trafficking,” he said. “They also visit hospitals to monitor the number of transplants to make sure they are medically certified by the ministry, otherwise they are illegal.”
But Mustafa said that government surveillance has not been as effective as it should be. “About 20 human rights organizations have filed reports against 20 hospitals who have been involved in trafficking,” he said. “We work closely with a few to help them identify victims in the effort to draw up reports and file claims against brokers and hospitals.”
According to Egyptian law, organ transplants are legal if done between family members and relatives. Donors and patients must approach certified hospitals and await a match. Donating to foreigners is strictly illegal, Shahin added.