Blood Money

Desperate Iraqis are being reduced to selling pints of blood to shadowy brokers.

Blood Money

Desperate Iraqis are being reduced to selling pints of blood to shadowy brokers.

Standing in line in front of a blood bank, Salim Ahmed haggled in whispers with a broker over how much the latter was willing to pay him for his blood.

Jobless Ahmed said he needed to sell his blood because he was the only breadwinner for his 11-member family, which includes his elderly father and sick mother.

“Unemployment and the deterioration of the economic situation have reduced me to this,” said the university graduate, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics and administration. “I don't have anything except some dinars in my pocket, which is only enough for transport.”

The high rate of unemployment is forcing many Iraqis to sell their blood to shadowy brokers who supply people whose relatives are in need of transfusions.

The system works in the following way: the family of a patient approach the broker with the blood group and amount they require. An appropriate donor is found, whose blood is drawn at an official blood bank and transferred to the family.

A bag containing 350cc of blood is usually bought by a broker for ten US dollars, then resold for five times the price. The high demand stems from the fact that official stocks are running low.

Omer Najeeb, also unemployed, said after selling most of his furniture, he had no other option except to sell his blood. “I have got a sick child and she needs medicine,” said Najeeb, a former officer in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein. “I’m tired of looking so hard to find a job but not getting one.”

Abdul-Waham Ameen owned a grocery store that was destroyed by a car bomb explosion. He didn’t have enough money to repair the shop, so he has been selling his blood for more than six months to pay for rent, food and other living costs.

“I may sell my kidney, too,” said Ameen. “Living conditions are extremely difficult. This is the only option for me.”

Ameer Salih, a blood broker, said outbreaks of violence drive up prices for supplies, “If there are many explosions, relatives of victims come to buy blood,” he said.

Maha Muhammed, a gynecologist and obstetrician, said family members of her patients often do not give her an honest answer when she asks them who they got their blood supplies from. Muhammed says she now avoids asking the question, as she’s more concerned about saving lives.

Dr Ahmed Saeed warned that giving too much blood was potentially dangerous. “Those who constantly give blood after short intervals put their lives at risk,” he said.

Yet it’s a risk that many of those who’ve fallen on hard times are prepared to take. Nizar Mamoon’s comes from an upper-class family which lost much of their wealth after paying a ransom to a gang who kidnapped his father. Nizar is now selling his blood to help the family.

“I have sisters in their final year of studying,” he said. “So I’m now working hard to provide money for them.”

Sahar al-Haideri is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.

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