KATHMANDU, Nepal — “The meat will grow back”—the comforting words bestowed upon Nawaraj Pariyar when he was tricked into a surgery where he unknowingly had his kidney removed for the black market. Promised the equivalent of $30,000 dollars for a piece of his skin, Pariyar was told that the procedure was low risk. He was then given clean clothes, food and taken to a movie.
The next day, Pariyar was escorted to Chennai, a southern state of India where traffickers assigned him a fake name. Traffickers informed the hospital that Pariyar was a relative of the recipient and presented forged documents to confirm their story. Because Pariyar did not understand the local language, he had no idea what the conversation between the trafficker and doctor entailed. Pariyar was discharged from the hospital the following day—with less than one percent of the promised compensation and unbeknownst to him, with one less kidney in his body.
Upon his return to Nepal, Pariyar began having health problems including severe back pain and urinary issues. When he went to the doctor, he was informed that one of his kidneys had been removed. Unable to afford the proper medical care necessary to help his condition, Pariyar now faces the possibility of death.
Kavra, a tiny district close to Kathmandu is considered to be ground zero for the black market organ trade in Nepal—where for more than 20 years, the poor and uneducated from villages in Kavra have been scammed and taken advantage of for the purpose of harvesting their kidneys.
Kidney trafficking is illegal but unfortunately the kidney business is both well funded and organized. According to the Forum for Protection of People’s Rights, in the last five years, more than 300 people have been reported as victims in this district alone. Some contend that this number is much higher.
Like other poor nations, Nepal’s aging populations, poor diets and lack of health insurance is a catalyst for organ disease. The kidney happens to be in the highest demand—according to a report by Global Financial Integrity as many as 2,000 kidneys are obtained illegally every year worldwide.
While it may seem hard to believe that this many individuals are getting tricked into an operation to harvest organs, understanding the economic conditions illuminates how easy it is for innocent victims to be exploited.
Apart from farming and livestock, Nepal offers very few opportunities for people to make a living. One medical bill has the potential to completely devastate a family’s income. Of those who can afford dialysis, the treatment for kidney failure, it is not always a viable option. A patient’s donor must match the blood group of the recipient. Additionally, Nepali law requires the organ or blood donor be a family member, hugely narrowing the pool of donors.
Traffickers often sell kidneys in Madras, India where organs sell for as much as $7,000 dollars on the black market. The illegal organ trade as a whole generates profits between $514 million to $1 billion dollars yearly.
Rajenda Ghimire, a human rights lawyer explained the many complications of stopping traffickers. The first issue lies in the fact that many victims are scared to come forward—either because of social stigma or due to threats from traffickers. Furthermore, traffickers are difficult to track down and adaptable.
“If we crackdown in one village, the traffickers simply move to another,” stated sub-inspector Dipendra Chand, a leader of the police investigation of the underground operation.
Another complication is due to Indian hospitals that accept Nepali documents. In this way, anyone can show up at the hospital, show forged documents and have their kidney removed. Because forged documents are readily available, traffickers are able to beat the system with little effort.
While the Nepali government has tried to tighten policies to crack down on the disturbing black market, it is clear that more needs to be done to stop these “kidney banks.” Last year the authorities arrested a mere ten people accused of organ trafficking-their cases are still awaiting trial.
– Caroline Logan