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Ordinance to prevent organ trade recently passed in Pakistan

‘Pakistan was becoming a destination for kidney tourism’

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Dec 10, 2007

Bangalore (eTN) - “I have lost count of the number of panel discussions I have held in Pakistan to push for laws against the kidney trade,” says Farhat Moazam, the founding chairperson of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Culture of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) in Karachi.

Pakistan had begun to establish itself as a leading destination for “kidney tourism” – “the country to fly to and buy kidneys with impunity,” Dr. Moazam had written in Dawn in 2006.

She also wrote about the villages in Punjab where a third of the residents had only one kidney.

It becomes clear that the attempts of India and Pakistan to deal with the kidney racket are startlingly similar – and also linked – as she talks to The Hindu on her visit to the city to attend the National Bioethics Conference.

“As many as 2,000 kidneys were being transplanted in the country every year over the last five years. And half of the recipients were people from outside Pakistan — overwhelmingly from the Middle East and Europe,” she explains. “When India passed the Transplantation of Human Organs Act in 1994, those looking for organ vendors shifted their focus to Iraq. Soon after the 2002 war, Pakistan became a favoured destination because we had no clear laws to deter organ trade.”

But the two decades-long campaign by the SIUT and health professionals bore fruit a few weeks ago with the passage of the Human Organs and Tissues Transplant Ordinance, 2007, which criminalises the buying and selling of human organs.

Only under exceptional conditions does it permit the transplant of kidneys between unrelated persons.

“It really was the media, health professionals and the public that forced the government to pass the ordinance,” she says.

The “organ trade mafia” in Pakistan operates the kidney trade much the same way that it does in India, Dr. Moazam says.

“Villages, especially in Punjab, had become a hub for middlemen. They were mainly farmers, kiln workers and bonded labourers, who were brought to private hospitals in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Many of these hospitals even used to advertise ‘transplantation packages’ on the internet.”

But the ordinance has changed all that, she says. Though there are loopholes in the ordinance similar to those in the Indian Transplantation Act, the ordinance will protect the poor from such exploitation, she says. “Professionals found to be commercially dealing in human organs can be fined and imprisoned. But now the task before us is to ensure that the ordinance becomes the law.”

‘Pakistan was becoming a destination for kidney tourism’
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