Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Economic Woes Drive Kidney Trade

(11-Apr-08)
By IWPR
The recent death of a 26-year-old man who had sold one of his kidneys in Egypt has highlighted the way some Syrians are resorting to extreme measures to raise money.



Ammar Haj Hasan died after returning from the trip to Egypt, the Syria News website reported last week. He was paid 5,000 US dollars for the kidney.



Hasan’s 27-year-old cousin also sold his kidney, and they were accompanied by a friend who earned 500 dollars for setting up the deal. This man and his wife had both sold their kidneys before arranging for Hasan and his cousin to do so.



News reports and medical experts say the kidney trade also happens inside Syria, where there are people prepared to sell their organs to earn some money.



Selling organs is illegal in Syria. A surgeon working in a government hospital said people wanting to sell their organs often pretend it is a donation.



"When you want to buy a house, you advertise in the newspaper,” he said. “Well, now you can do that to buy a kidney. You just replace the word ‘buy’ with ‘donate’. Dozens of people will get the message and offer their organs for money. We hear lot of stories like that in our field."



About two weeks ago, a flyer was plastered on a wall in the wealthy Damascus neighbourhood of Abu Rommana reading, "Man in good health would like to donate part of his liver."



In the middle class neighbourhood of al-Mujtahed, another advertiser was offering a kidney donation.



“This isn’t the first time I’ve seen such a promotion,” commented a nearby shop owner. “Poor young men are desperate because of the difficult economic situation, unemployment and high prices.”



He went on, “Getting married and having a house is a dream that’s hard to attain. I’m the father of three young men, and I completely understand that suffering."



Earlier this year, the government ordered all kidney transplants to stop in private hospitals, saying their facilities did not meet the hygiene standards for performing the operation safely.



Under Syrian law, families can donate the organs of deceased relatives. These donations can be handled by government hospitals, but most families do not consider donations socially acceptable. People who need transplants often turn to relatives or buy an organ.



The surgeon said selling kidneys had become “an active trade”, and the order to halt transplants was being ignored. Transplants “are done in any way and anywhere. There is a specific network of people who work in this field, exploiting people in need,” he said.



According to the Syria News website, kidneys are sold for as little as 300,000 to 400,000 Syrian lira, or up to8,000 dollars.



"In the past, patients had to travel to India or another country to buy a kidney for one million lira; but now, they can get one here in Syria for half that amount or less," said the surgeon.



(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)