Kiwis urged to avoid bootleg kidneys

By Catherine Masters, Edward Gay

There are about 500 people waiting for a kidney transplant in New Zealand as some Kiwis use the internet to buy organs from third world countries.

Organ Donation New Zealand co-ordinator, Janice Langlands said about 500 people around the country are waiting on kidneys and can wait between three and five years depending on their blood type.

Statistics from ODNZ show that last year there were 121 kidney transplants in New Zealand - 54 coming from dead donors and 67 from live donors.

Dr Ian Dittmer is the clinical director at Auckland Hospital's renal clinic. He said a New Zealand patient who went overseas for a kidney operation later died after contracting hepatitis.

Dr Dittmer said other patients have come back with infections and there are other cases where the transplant has not taken.

"There's substantial risks when you go to those places. Occasionally they get proper treatment. Ocassionally we get letters from those units about how the transplant has gone and what medicines they're on but more often than not we don't.

"Often, those people get rather shoddy transfers. A couple of years ago we had a patient. We were contacted by the airline who was trying to get this person back from India who was ill, infected with a multi-resistant organism and a non-functioning transplant - it worked for about a day and got taken out," Dr Dittmer said.

He said going overseas for a transplant is "abhorrent" and needed to be stopped.

Dr Dittmer is a member of the Declaration of Istanbul - a group of renal physicians who meet to discuss the ethics of transplant tourism and organ trafficking. He has just returned from a meeting in Cairo.

He said often the donors are paid a fraction of that they're promised and are "dumped back in the street again" without ongoing medical treatment.

"These people often get sh**y treatment and in China people have been executed so they can be donors," Dr Dittmer said.

Another senior Auckland doctor said yesterday that he had dealt with two cases in which New Zealanders had bought kidneys and had the transplant operations in the Third World - and he knew there were others.

"They are very rare, but it happens," said Associate Professor Johan Rosman, chief medical officer and renal physician for Waitemata District Health.

"They come back to us and we say, 'Where have you been? You've been away for six months?' [They say] 'Yeah, I've bought me an organ'.

"I've seen two but there are many more, and I know that in the Netherlands and in the US it's very common practice.

One of the NZ patients had a badly done transplant, and the other had a successful operation.

"It's always the same thing - they say, 'We're going to buy a kidney', and all of a sudden they're gone, they don't come for dialysis any more. Then they show up and they have the kidney."

Professor Rosman, a speaker at a conference on NZ's low organ-donor rate held in Wellington yesterday, said he did not approve of the practice and would never recommend it, but there was no point in ignoring it.

He proposed allowing people to buy organs, but setting up a safe hospital in a Third World country so they could receive healthy organs and be well cared for.

Professor Rosman said it was easy to find kidneys for sale through the internet.

"The problem is, we don't know where it happens - it's usually small hospitals in the bush and people get bad kidneys, they may get HIV ... We've seen it in the past.

"We say it's unethical to do that. It's unethical to buy organs from poor people.

"But if you could save your family by selling an organ and you could do that in a proper hospital and you know you would be seen every half-year after your surgery and have proper controls and be safe and not be fobbed off with $100 [instead of the promised $10,000 payment] ...

"I think in the end that's a better system, otherwise we're just fooling ourselves."

The sale of kidneys happens in countries such as China, Pakistan and India and, more recently, poor African nations.

The United Nations has called for an international treaty to prevent the trafficking of organs. A study by the UN last year argued that people should not be able to sell organs and the practice often exploited the poor.

Amnesty International has highlighted "organ harvesting" of prisoners facing the death penalty and has said there is a lack of transparency about whether or not permission has been gained by prisoners.

THE PRICE

* In New Zealand a kidney transplant costs taxpayers about $80,000 in the first year, and $10,000 to $15,000 in each subsequent year, mainly for anti-rejection drugs.

* In the Third World, patients pay more than US$100,000 ($141,800) for a kidney transplant taken from a live donor.

BUYING A KIDNEY ON THE INTERNET

Buying a kidney is simple. A quick search on google returned results from India.

There were a range of prices but most were asking for between 900,000 and 1 million rupees (NZ$28,849 and 32,058).

Many of the sellers talked about their good health and financial problems. Manesha was typical of sellers.

"hai this is Mahesha, 25 [years] old. My kidney was sale. blood gA+ I am also full healthy, I am fasing so many problems financial. Anybody wanted kidney. call me... plase call imediately."

- NZ Herald

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