The kidney that traveled…

There is much talk on about the kidney racket in Delhi. Well for the last two decades, India has been a destination for either legal medical tourism or illegal transplants. There have been far too many cases in Villivakkam (AKA Kidney village) Madras and other places, it is just that all this has become a bit high profile now and is reported worldwide. India is news these days because a lot of people have directly or indirectly invested and got involved and interested in India. So the press takes the story straight to the front pages, be it Harbajan calling Symonds something or Carla Bruni not coming to spend the day with Sarkosy at Agra…The Nano car got good and bad publicity, the cricket affair got into Time magazine…

But well, this story takes you back to some 12 years ago, in Turkey. I had just arrived in Istanbul to start up a new division in our organization out there and had to make a high profile visit to one of the biggest customers. It was to a public sector organization in Ankara, and I was going to Ankara for the first time. My colleague who was with me drove me through the roads of Ankara in the rented Turkish make Tofas Dogan car (you will see Dogans only in one other place, Cairo Egypt – equipped with taxi meters from Pune which the taxi driver attests as – ‘Hindi meter bery goot’) past the great Ataturk mausoleum to the offices which we had to visit.

The visit went very well, or so I thought – with me speaking in English, everybody else talking in Turkish – much nodding of heads and everybody smoking like a chimney… I was wondering what they said and I am sure they were wondering what I was saying till my colleague translated bits here & there…The morning went by pleasantly, tea was served with pomp, biscuits eaten, more tea sipped, the country’s politics, recession and currency values dissected, many more tubes of tobacco consigned to acrid smoke and going on to start up the activities of cancer prone cells of people in there….

Then it was time for lunch. The GM, a dignified grey haired and meticulously dressed man, wearing a beautifully cut suit (The Turks dress splendidly and that is one thing I will agree with Gen Musharaf of Pakistan – if you want to buy men’s clothes, especially suits & ties, buy them in Turkey, like he does – Tansu Ciller the PM used to send ties to Billy Clinton) insisted that he sit next to me on the lunch table. He wanted my colleague to sit on the other side, ready to translate. Now I was mystified, why this sudden rapport? The man could speak passable English, but would not and continued on in Turkish. Anyway he started speaking and then all of a sudden, this 55-58 year old man started weeping!! I was astounded and just sat open mouthed wondering what was going on…The teary eyed man then took my hands in his and kept saying ‘tesekur ederim, tesekur’ which of course I understood as thanks over & over again…while the rest of the gathering gawked at us…

Later my colleague explained patiently in translation “You see, he says he owes his life to India. His kidneys had failed and last year he had been to Bombay and got a new kidney transplant. Now he feels hale & hearty and wants to thank your people and your country for saving his life”. Well, what could I say? I was stumped….

The surprising thing is that there was hardly any tourist movement those days between India & Turkey. How did this all take place? There must have been elaborate arrangements, go betweens, and I heard he had to pay a lot for the package tour to Amchi Mumbai and that there were many more members in the group that traveled to India…See how far touts reach…this was a time when the internet was just taking off…How did he get all this done?? Anyway this was all many years ago and I never met him after that.

Check out on Google today, see how many Medical tourism sites pop up offering transplant packages in India (with Government permission) at 15K$ to 30K$ a pop...

In the recent case, it took a disgruntled donor’s complaint to ensure a raid on the premises. The doctor escaped. Newspapers called it “the nexus between the organ traders and the police.”
Investigators were alerted to the ring on Thursday by a donor who said the operation had ruined his health. Apparently tipped off to the raid, Dr. Kumar escaped arrest. Only one of the four main doctors implicated has been detained. Up to 500 kidneys are said to have been sold at vast profit over the past decade to four doctors operating from a so-called "House of Horrors", a private house in the booming IT city of Gurgaon, on the outside Delhi.

A New York Times Magazine article recently asked the question, "Why not let people sell their organs?" From an economic point of view, the article explains, demand for kidneys is far outrunning supply around the world. If people could legally sell, economists argue, more people with kidney disease might be saved, and the poor people willing to sell would have a chance to get badly needed funds. "Nature has given us two kidneys because the poor especially are prone to more infections and more renal problems," Dr. H. Sudarshan tells Grant doing the PBS production. "They can't really afford to donate one kidney. It's a myth. They need two kidneys much more than any rich person." Others see it differently, including Dr. Ajit Huilgol, a transplant doctor who says he has performed more than 1,400 transplant surgeries. Huilgol believes a non exploitative measure could be implemented in which there is "no middleman involved and the money that is promised to the donor is given directly to them."

Watch this PBS movie by
Samantha Grant – India, A pound of flesh

Villivakkam donors photo – National geographic Sept 2003

Another chilling
video story on Youtube

Comments

harimohan said…
thought provoking post ,one of my classmates gave a kidney to her dad in her third yr ,she is hale and hearty with 2 teens now ,
of course th stepeney kidney is needed as a backup ,
the indian medical assn kerala has been running SORT which is voluntary organ donation declaration in the event of sudden death and most of the members are signatories to it .
the demand is huge ,best option is cadaver transplants and from brain deads ,but culture and tradition and of course emotion has to be faced ,to relatives of a brain dead person a descison of organ donation is a brave one .
on one side racketeers including medical profession contribute to the slimy side of medical tourism but the good side is the skill and cost effectiveness of medical procedures in india compared to abroad ,for eg a bone marrow transplant in india would be ten lakhs and in uk it could be one million,
poverty and politics with lax regulations leads to expoitation in our country but beyond this we have a lot to be proud of
sorry for that long diatribe .
Wow, fascinating post. The recent publicity around the kidney scandal makes it sound like this racket is recent. But reading your post makes it sound like it has been going on for a while.
Nanditha Prabhu said…
i just read a short story on a kidney that traveled.. though it is on an entirely different topic.
this post brings about lots of questions .....a state of dilemma on what is right and what is wrong...
it is well written as always...
narendra shenoy said…
I haven't seen those videos yet, one, because my broadband connection is acting up a bit and two, because i have a queasy feeling in my stomach already. I know a very rich gentleman who recently had a transplant from a non-family member. I don't know where he got that kidney from. He is a charitable man. I'm sure he paid the donor well. But I could not help thinking that a 65 year old man like him should not ruin the life of someone probably in his or her twenties. There is dignity in accepting your fate and dying gracefully. Hanging on to dear life, no matter what the consequence to others is, to my mind, not Indian. We accept death as part of a great cycle of births and rebirths.

I think if it was me there, I should prefer to keel over and die.
Happy Kitten said…
But why are the donors mostly from India and not for example from Egypt? Are the kidneys not healthy?

We also heard abt the scam from the Chinese jails too..nd I am sure it is happening in our jails and mental homes. Who is there to protest?
kallu said…
Interesting post. Medical tourism is flourishing on its own while the Govt has to flog the other kind. And you say, it’s been going on for years. Terrific Indian entrepreneurs. And doctors too.

My cousin had a transplant in one of the best hospitals in Chennai, yet he couldn’t survive too long. How do these shady hospitals carry out complicated operations so successfully?

But the cost to families with such a patient is terrific, especially if he is the breadwinner. They can’t say let him go on his own. They have to try to keep him going as long as they can and the toll on all kinds of resources is high.
kallu said…
Interesting post. Medical tourism is flourishing on its own while the Govt has to flog the other kind. And you say, it’s been going on for years. Terrific Indian entrepreneurs. And doctors too.

My cousin had a transplant in one of the best hospitals in Chennai, yet he couldn’t survive too long. How do these shady hospitals carry out complicated operations so successfully?

But the cost to families with such a patient is terrific, especially if he is the breadwinner. They can’t say let him go on his own. They have to try to keep him going as long as they can and the toll on all kinds of resources is high.
Maddy said…
Hari & Nanditha - like you said, regulated organ donor programs are the best. Here when we apply for drivers licenses, we are asked if we are interested in donating organs !

BPSK - I think it started in the early 80's.

Narendra - well, that is the bad part, kidneys take a painful while to fail and when you know that with a transplant you can be fit again, your whole thought process changes!!

HK - Well i think it happens in other places too (it thrives in Egypt, Thailand, Pakistan...), but in India we have a multitude of donors and some quacks & doctors who want to make a quick buck, for different reasons. Then we have our efficient touts who could have been great car salesmen actually!!

Kallu - thanks a lot for passing by, do visit often. Yes, the cost to a caring family can be horrendous, but I understand that it is not a very complex surgical process. takes 2-4 hrs I believe.

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