Desperate New Zealanders are turning to illegal organ trafficking because of a shortage of organs here, a University of Canterbury law researcher says.
Masters student Rachel Walsh is investigating the booming international organ trafficking market, made popular because of a severe shortage of organs here and internationally.
More people were seeking alternative options to acquire a desperately wanted organ, she said.
"One of the more popular trends is to obtain an organ through transplant tourism, which is where potential organ recipients travel to another country to receive an organ transplant."
Transplant tourism involved the buying and selling of solid organs through companies, middlemen or directly with the organ seller, which could easily be done on the internet within a matter of hours, she said.
"The market for transplant tourism is mostly illegal. Many of the companies offering transplant tourism packages offer it under the well-hidden guise of internet companies selling products, such as t-shirts, pens, pamper package holidays or even as joke websites."
While transplant tourism could be quite affordable and life sustaining for the recipient, there were also major risks involved, Ms Walsh said.
"The surgical care can be unhygienic, unhealthy vulnerable donors may be used and organ matching can be sub-standard.
"There is a major risk of infection or transmission of disease, such as HIV and in the majority of cases, there is no follow-up care. There are also reported cases of potential recipients paying large sums of money and never receiving the organ on arrival in the foreign country."
Ms Walsh said there had been no reported cases in New Zealand of people prosecuted for buying of selling transplantable organs, but that did not mean people were not travelling overseas to buy the organs.
"Sadly the number of people who need organs is growing. The transplant waitlists are getting longer, five years for a kidney, and that is if you are lucky enough to even get one.
"The supply of organs from both living and deceased donors is getting shorter."
She said it was understandable why people would risk their lives by turning to illegally purchase organs from overseas, despite the high number of deaths reported.
"Abuse, fraud and coercion of kidney sellers are also frequently reported. Due to the global recession, people struggled just to put food on their tables and provide shelter for their children and families.
"In poorer countries, selling ones organ is becoming a growing trend just for survival."
Ms Walsh said if the donor pool were to be increased in New Zealand, then people would spend less time on the national waitlist. More organs would be available and patients would be more likely to receive a much wanted organ, as opposed to desperately turning to transplant tourism for a chance at survival.
One way to increase the donor pool could be by offering the New Zealand public incentives to donate.
There were three types of trafficking:
• A trafficker forces or coerces a victim to give up one or more of their organs;
• A victim's organ is removed without their knowledge; and
• A victims are not paid the amount agreed upon for the sale of their organs.
"Organ trafficking victims are usually poor, homeless, or illiterate, therefore vulnerable to traffickers," Ms Walsh said.
"There are numerous people involved in organ trafficking, including hospitals, doctors, middlemen, organ banks and transporters. With trafficking, anything that can be removed can be sold on, regardless of the age or lack of consent of the victim."
• International hot spots for transplant tourism include China, the Philippines and Pakistan;
• The most sought after organs were kidneys and an organ could cost between $5000 to $250,000;
• Most recipients received organs from the Middle East, China or India;
• In New Zealand it is illegal to buy and sell organs due to the Human Tissue Act;
• There are large penalties or imprisonment for people who attempt to purchase or buy and sell organs; and
• Trafficking was most common in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.