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