The Philippines today announced a ban on kidney transplants involving overseas patients in an effort to stamp out the murky organ trade, which preys on some of the country’s most vulnerable and impoverished people.
The thriving “transplant tourism” trade made the Philippines one of the world’s cheapest places for wealthy foreign patients seeking to buy a new kidney.
But gangs of organ traffickers often lured poor Filipinos into giving up one of their kidneys – invariably for a pittance – as the traders profited from the sales.
“They feast on our poverty,” said Francisco Duque, the Philippines health secretary, as he unveiled new rules barring living donors from giving organs to non-relatives. “The sale of one’s body parts is condemnable and improper. We have to stop it.”
Organ sales are illegal in the Philippines. But in each of the past few years, as many as 500 foreign patients, including Britons, received kidney transplants, the vast majority of them from people who were not relatives.
The Philippines became a transplant “hotspot” after China and Pakistan, among the world’s largest sources of donated kidneys, adopted tough measures to curb organ sales.
A case two weeks ago, when the police raided a safe house in Montalban, near Manila, illustrated the scale of the problem.
Nine men were lured with the offer of jobs. But the gang forced them to become donors, promising just £1,450 for a kidney. When police discovered them, two had already lost a kidney while the dealer, who intended to sell each organ for £2,400, was still seeking foreign recipients for the rest.
Wealthy foreign patients desperate for a new kidney pay as much as £24,000 for a transplant operation conducted in any of 20 private medical facilities across the Philippines.
The problem is so bad that last year 109 poor villagers in just three townships near Manila sold kidneys to overseas patients.