In Nepal’s Kidney Valley, poverty drives an illegal market for human organs

2022 is the year 19-year-old Santos will never forget. Santosh dreamed of improving his life for the better, by looking for work outside his rural village in Nepal as a migrant worker. His life has indeed changed, but only for the worse. Santosh is now half the man he used to be after losing a kidney to an organ-smuggling ring in Nepal, a South Asian country of 29 million people and one of the world’s poorest.

“I never thought my life would get this far. I can hardly walk, faint easily and can no longer lift heavy things.

Santosh, who asked that only his first name be used for fear of being disgraced, is one of nearly half a million migrant workers Leave rural Nepal To chase a better life. In June last year, he was lured by two men who came to his native village in central Nepal with the promise of a new job in New Delhi, the northwest capital of neighboring India. Over the next few weeks, he was illegally smuggled into India via porous wild frontiers He was later taken to a hospital in the eastern city of Kolkata, where doctors performed an illegal operation, removing one of his kidneys.

“They stole my kidney, handed me a bundle of money and sent me back to Nepal. I never knew what was happening to me,” he said.

The Anti-Human Trafficking Wing of the Nepal Police has Nine people were arrested Since July 2022 accused of running organ trafficking operations in the capital, Kathmandu. Santosh thinks Among dozens of victims this year.

Santosh was the only member of his family of six who was given an income of any kind. The work he did on a small farm of less than 13 acres in the Nuwakot district of central Nepal made it barely enough. “I have four sisters and a mother at home, six mouths to feed and no money. I was desperate for this new job.

This desperation made him an easy target for human traffickers. Upon arriving in New Delhi, he said he was told he needed to take a blood test as part of the requirements for the new job. He said he had no idea what was happening to him in the hospital. “They asked me to say yes to whatever the doctor asked, so I did. The doctor did not investigate further.” Santosh wakes up after the surgery with a sharp pain in his stomach and is horrified to see the scar which is now a lifelong reminder of what was stolen from him.

After the surgery, traffickers handed him $4,500 for his stolen kidney, Santosh told the NewsHour, a kidney likely to be sold to a wealthy buyer willing to pay to jump the line for an organ transplant. Medicine was given and sent back to Nepal. When he returned home, he was again out of a job, still poor, but now also in chronic deficiency. For several weeks, Santosh was bedridden. He can no longer work on his farm, so he now works in a small tea shop in Kathmandu, earning less than $2 a day. His stomach still hurts every time he bent over. He was no longer the healthy young man he was before.

19-year-old Santosh now has a scar that will remind him for life of his stolen kidney.  Image source: Zeba Warsi

19-year-old Santosh now has a scar that will remind him for life of his stolen kidney. Image source: Zeba Warsi

“The donor could die and no one would care,” said Dr. Francis Delmonico, a transplant specialist. Delmonico is a transplant surgeon and former president of the United Network for Member Sharing That oversees the transplant system in the United States to ensure fairness. He said all kidney donors require extended care and must be monitored. But in cases of illegal organ trafficking, donors like Santosh face serious health risks without that medical oversight.

Human traffickers should not be blamed and punished for the illegal buying and selling of organs such as kidneys. The blame also lies with the government, hospitals and medical professionals who can be negligent or even complicit in the trafficking, Delmonico said.

“If a doctor is violating the law against the buying and selling of organs, the doctor should not be able to continue the practice,” Delmonico said.

there internationally accepted standards For kidney transplants followed by most of the countries including India and Nepal, which are mandated by local laws. In these rules, the written consent of the donor is sought, and in most cases the donor is related to the recipient – a family or relative, who must ensure that the donor is not under any pressure, or is not bound by any financial compensation in return for donating their kidney. “So the government has a responsibility, professionals have a responsibility, and hospitals have a responsibility to know this information,” Delmonico said.

“Who is the donor who is now offering either a kidney to this particular recipient? Where do they come from? What is the relationship of that individual, the donor to the recipient? These are facts, in my opinion, that are essential to performing a transplant in an ethical manner.

Kavri district in Nepal is known as

The Kavri region of Nepal is known as the “Valley of the Kidney” because it is home to villages where scores of people voluntarily sold their kidneys for money or were trafficked and scammed. Image source: Zeba Warsi

Nepali officials told the NewsHour that every victim they spoke to led them to the same hospital in India – Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiologya hospital was in addresses For illegal kidney transplants in the past. However, they were not prosecuted by the Indian authorities.

We wrote to the local authorities at the time and still have not heard from them. When one hospital is frequently featured in the news, it is clear that there is a problem, said Dr. Sanjay Nagral, a transplant specialist in Mumbai.

Dr. Sanjay Nagral is the co-chair of the Declaration of Istanbul Trustees GroupAn association of global experts from more than 100 countries on organ trafficking that sets international standards for the transplant procedure. He said the majority of kidney smuggling cases in Nepal lead to hospitals in India. There is a lot of money illegally buying and selling organs.

“A lot of transplants in South Asia, including India, are done in the private sector and there is huge money involved. So the rules of market medicine apply more severely or severely to implants. There is a lot of money being spent on them and then There are individuals who need kidneys from the wealthy and are willing to pay whatever is required to have a healthy kidney.” As of the time of publication, NewsHour calls and emails to hospital authorities and health officials in India have gone unanswered.

For several years, poverty and desperation have driven people to sell their kidneys to human traffickers who make money on the kidney black market in India. This is part of the larger human trafficking problem in Nepal: a An estimated 35,000 Nepali men, women and children They are “sold” into a form of modern day slavery and the sex trade every year, according to Latest government report.

When kidneys are in high demand in India, the Poorer neighbor Nepal It became a hunting ground for traffickers who would either convince young men in Nepal to sell their kidneys for quick money, or trick them into doing so, as they did with Santosh.

Nepal has a troubled history with the illegal “sale” of kidneys. The Kavri district in central Nepal is known as the “Valley of the Kidneys”. over the past two decades, Dozens of men from the villages are there They either voluntarily went to India to sell their kidneys, or they were trafficked and deceived in it.

The National Human Rights Commission of Nepal told NewsHour that at least 150 people from one village in Kavri district have sold their kidneys, but only three cases have been officially reported.

This vulnerability is the result of years of isolation, said Murari Karel, Nepal’s national human rights commissioner. The governments of India and Nepal and humanitarian agencies are falling short. The government needs to pay more attention to this. Even humanitarian agencies failed to spread awareness and provide support in those villages. “They’ve been neglected for too long,” Kharel said, and citizens thereafter are more likely to fall victim to illegal schemes.

69-year-old Kali is worried about her son, who sold his kidney due to poverty.  Image source: Zeba Warsi

69-year-old Kali is worried about her son, who sold his kidney due to poverty. Image source: Zeba Warsi

In the village of Jemdi, also located in the so-called “Kidney Valley”, in every last house there is at least one person who sold his kidney in the past due to financial need. “My eldest son gave his kidney a few years ago. He worked as a construction worker. He’s now struggling with life, he’s weaker and gets sick easily,” said 69-year-old Kaley, who asked not to be identified by first name only out of fear of shame. Her son got less than $500 for his kidney.

Right next door, another family in dire need. “I know my uncle’s kidney was sold when I was young. Whenever he changed his clothes, we would see the sign of surgery and his grandmother said his kidney was sold,” said 13-year-old Shodata.

Shadata, who has also asked to be identified by her first name for fear of disgrace, is studying at the local school, supported by her sister who works in Kathmandu. She loves singing, loves languages, and aspires to rewrite the poor fate of her family. Her uncle sold his kidney for only $300.

Just last month, Shadda prevented her father from selling his kidney out of desperation. I need money to start a new business. His little daughter spoke about it.

“I cried and cried and we all in the family urge him not to. It’s both of us – our mom and dad because we don’t have a mom. After a lot of pleading he finally agreed not to sell his kidney.

His intensity, she said, is aware of how her neighborhood is viewed: the poor and desperate who sell their organs for money. She wants to break free from this tradition and believes that education is the key.

I heard about selling kidneys in our village and I know that the reason for that is poverty. “No one would do such a thing,” she said, “unless he is in dire need of it.” “I think what we need is education. Please help us with education, build schools for us, create jobs for us. So no one should be so helpless that he sells his kidney.”

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