Oddly Enough

Kidney racket scandal shocks country

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The uncovering of an illegal kidney transplant racket in a booming IT city has gripped India, with reports hundreds of poor laborers may have been duped or forced into donating organs to wealthy clients, including foreigners.

Hundreds of people from across northern India had their kidneys removed at a private house, which had a state-of-the-art operating theatre hidden inside, after being lured to Gurgaon, a city of hi-tech companies just outside New Delhi.

“We suspect around 400 or 500 kidney transplants were done by these doctors over the last nine years,” Mohinder Lal, Gurgaon’s police chief, told the Hindustan Times.

Several people have been arrested, including some doctors, police said.

The case, one of the largest transplant rackets reported in India in recent years, has dominated the country’s headlines and sparked calls for the government to tighten regulation of kidney transplants to stop backstreet operations as global demand rises.

“Dr Horror” was how India’s Mail Today described the ringleader of the racket in a front-page headline on Monday.

The doctor accused of heading the group may have fled the country, according to police, quoted as saying he appeared to have been tipped off. As many as 50 medical officials may have been involved in the racket.

At least five foreigners -- two U.S. and three Greek citizens -- were found in a luxury guesthouse operated by the doctor running the racket, Lal was quoted as saying by local media.

Police said they have since been allowed to leave India.

Many victims complained they were taken to the house with promises of a job, and then duped or forced at gunpoint to sell their kidneys.

Laborers, many who gathered every day in parts of Gurgaon to look for any kind of job, were offered around 50,000 rupees ($1,250) for their kidneys. They were sold to wealthy clients for 10 times as much.

“I was approached by a stranger for a job. When I accepted, I was taken to a room with gunmen,” Mohammed Salim told NDTV television.

“They tested my blood, gave me an injection and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I had pain in my lower abdomen and I was told that my kidney had been removed.”

Suspicious neighbors said they had noticed blood running out of the house’s gutters, as well as blood-soaked bandages and even bits of flesh thrown into an open plot near the house.

Kidney failure has become more common in rich countries, often because of obesity. But a shortage of transplant organs has fuelled a black market that exploits needy donors.

In “transplant tourism,” rich patients pay tens of thousands of dollars to receive kidneys in poor countries, where payments are typically about $1,000 in the black market.

Illegal transplants are not new in India.

Last year, police in southern India said they had uncovered evidence of illegal trade in kidneys sold by poor fishermen and their families whose livelihoods were destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Editing by Jonathan Allen and Jerry Norton