Countries move to combat transplant tourism

Countries move to combat transplant tourism

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The WHO’s efforts to establish laws against organ trafficking are slowly starting to pay off, say experts at an international conference on organ donations and transplants in Madrid.

Moves to combat "transplant tourism", in which patients from rich countries pay large sums to have organ transplants in poor ones, are gaining pace, said experts at an international conference in Madrid.

The World Health Organisation and the European Union have led the way in tackling the problem, according to the conference on organ donations and transplants.

"Stopping the illegal trafficking of organs and ending transplant tourism is an objective shared by all countries," Spanish Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said.

"The European Union has a harmonised model in which no one puts a price on an organ, and the WHO is making a great effort to spread this model," she added.

Rafael Matesanz, the head of the Spain's national transplant organisation, said efforts to curb transplant tourism "began in 2005 with the very decisive action of the World Health Organisation and the international Transplantation Society to establish laws in the countries where it does not exist."

A boy stands in the landscape of Manila's slum district of Baseco, a well known area for kidney vendors. Baseco is the best-known living donor community, with local officials estimating that some 3,000 out of the slum's 50,000 residents have sold their kidneys to escape from poverty

Dr Luc Noel, a coordinator of the WTO on the subject, said a "common front" was now emerging in the battle against the practice.

He noted that laws against the trafficking of organs had been adopted in five countries considered among the worst offenders: China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt and Colombia.

In all these countries, many poor people sell their livers or kidneys to patients in rich countries in need of them.

Noel said that although organ transplant tourism continued in China, legislation passed there in 2007 had already led to the arrest of a gang of traffickers.

China's deputy health minister Dr Huang Jiefu attended the Madrid conference in March to emphasise his country's efforts.

"Since the beginning of this century, organ transplantation has become a booming health industry" in a country where "over 90 percent of the organs still come from executed prisoners," he said.

"The trading of human organs emerged in China in an under-regulated environment, forming a tremendous profit chain that is against the principles of equality and the goal of building harmonious society in China."

The Spanish newspaper El Pais recently reported the case of a Spaniard, Oscar Garay, who paid EUR 135,000 to receive a new liver in a hospital in the Chinese city of Tianjin in 2008.

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Huang Jiefu admitted that despite the 2007 law there are still hospitals in China that "trade with illegal organ agencies and ... sell organs to foreigners for profit".

But he noted that seven hospitals had had their licenses withdrawn for carrying out transplants.

The head of the Transplantation Society, Professor Jeremy Chapman, said "China is working very hard to stop the trade" in organs.

But he said such work must go hand in hand with efforts in the countries of origin of the "tourists"

"To stop the trade you must stop the need. There are some very successful examples where patients used to leave the country and now they hardly do it at all. I would pick Saudi Arabia as a success story," he said.

AFP / Olivier Thibault / Expatica

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