First Published: 2006-04-04

 
Egypt's illegal organs trade thrives on poverty
 

More and more destitute Egyptians hoping for better life are falling prey to illegal human organs trade.

 

Middle East Online

By Joelle Bassoul - CAIRO

She might sell her organ if selling chocolate can't afford her a better life

On the back of dire poverty, legal shortcomings and religious conservatism, a new mafia is prospering in Egypt and turning the country into the regional hub for the human organs trade, experts say.

There are no official statistics but in a country where social inequality is high and a quarter of the population is believed to live under the poverty line, more and more destitute Egyptians are falling prey to the phenomenon.

The large scars slicing the sides of many Egyptians in impoverished Cairo neighbourhoods most probably testify to an illegal kidney sale to a rich fellow countryman or a Gulf Arab who could not find a donor.

"A Saudi patient can pay up to 80,000 dollars split between the doctor, the donor and the go-between," says Hamdi al-Sayyed, the head of Egypt's doctors' union.

"For example, a Jordanian or a Saudi who needs a transplant comes to Egypt accompanied by a relative as an official cover and then looks for an Egyptian or a Sudanese who is ready to sell his organ," he explains.

While most donors are poor and hoping for a better life, not all are volunteers, with grisly accounts of forced organ 'donations' earning Egypt the sinister reputation of 'Brazil of the Middle East'.

Like millions of Egyptians, Abdelhamid AbdelHamid, Ahmed Ibrahim and Ashraf Zakaria were seeking better paid jobs in the Gulf but their quest cost them a kidney.

In a recent interview to the independent Al-Masri Al-Yom daily, they explained how they had been promised jobs but were requested to undergo a medical examination beforehand.

The doctor "discovered" they were all suffering from a kidney infection requiring immediate surgery. They woke up later in hospital with a missing kidney. The go-between had vanished but they feared to speak out.

A few days later, the health ministry caught a trafficker red-handed as he was selling a kidney to a Saudi citizen for 3,500 dollars. The Cairo hospital was supposed to be paid the same amount.

According to the main anti-narcotics body, a kilogram of bango, the popular local form of marijuana, fetches around 100 dollars on the drugs market. But dealers expose themselves to major risks to run their trade while organ trafficking can offer a safer and often more lucrative alternative.

"This mafia should be busted and the only way to do it is to pass legislation" regulating organ donation, Sayyed says.

Only cornea transplants are covered by legislation, with all other operations falling in a gaping legal loophole. "Some doctors see it as an opportunity to make easy money," he explains.

Sayyed, who is also a lawmaker, has been pushing for parliament to adopt new legislation slapping heavy fines and prison sentences on people found guilty of involvement in illegal organs trafficking.

His proposal also bans transplants between two people of different nationalities, in a bid to reduce the incentive for transplant tourism.

In the United States, selling organs is a criminal offense that can incur a fine of up 50,000 dollars and five years in jail, while laws are also very tough in Europe.

Yet in Egypt, the go-betweens cannot be prosecuted and the worst punishment facing corrupt doctors is to be stripped of their license by their peers.

Some of the unscrupulous doctors even sought the help of the judiciary to overturn bans by the doctors unions and won their cases.

"The situation is not tolerable. Not only does it feed a booming black market, it also leaves us with victims who are dumped after the transplant," says Haytham al-Khayyat, a regional official with the World Health Organisation.

Sayyed and Khayyat accuse a group of influential Egyptian figures, including doctors, of blocking the bill by hiding behind ethical and religious principles.

While Egypt's current mufti, or senior Islamic jurist, supports a bill, his predecessor Sheikh Nasr Farid Wasel vocally opposed it.

"We have the support of the official religious authorities, including Al-Azhar's Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi," who heads the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam, Sayyed says, pointing out that the cleric himself volunteered as a donor in his will.

The Muslim Brothers, an Islamist movement which controls a fifth of parliament and is Egypt's main opposition force, also support introducing a bill. "Legislation is the only way to stem organs trafficking," spokesman Issam al-Aryan says.

 

Munich shooting had 'obvious link' to Breivik, not ISIS

Libya ‘NATO revolutionaries’ urge fight against French troops

Turkey extends police powers, shutters over 1,000 private schools

Coalition warplanes strike Qaeda positions in southern Yemen

Palestinian village could soon cease to exist

At least 61 people dead as ISIS claims twin blasts in Kabul

Iraq PM seeks to speed up death penalty implementation

EgyptAir flight broke up in midair after fire, evidence suggests

Germany probes motives of 'lone' Munich mass killer

Russian warplanes targeted US, British outpost in Syria

Syrians harness Pokemon frenzy to depict their plight

Bodies of 14 'executed' people found in Libya's Benghazi

UN to help Turkey bolster tourism sector

France to supply weapons to Iraqi army

Turkey tensions fester in Germany

Israel official on first visit to Chad in 40 years

EU condemns 'unacceptable' Turkey purges

Iran stops 'terrorist infiltration' from Turkey

Moscow restarts air travel to Turkey

Assad says Erdogan is 'implementing his own extremist agenda'

Egypt's Sisi says 'serious efforts' made in Palestine peace process

43 civilians dead as regime bombards rebel-held areas in Syria

UN pleads for weekly 48-hour truce in Syria's Aleppo

Kuwait upholds death for Iran spy cell 'mastermind'

Iran arrests 40 over 'terrorist' plots

US-backed forces give IS '48 hours' to leave Syria's Manbij

Syria activists urge protests over deadly coalition raids

Kuwait issues ultimatum to Yemen negotiators

Turkey coup plotters go on trial in Greece

Mali renews state of emergency after deadly attack

Turkish President declares 3-month state of emergency

Libya unity govt blasts French military presence

Erdogan critics fear what may come next

ISIS bomb kills 4 in Yemen's Aden

Outrage after Syrian rebel group beheads child

Israel parliament passes law allowing expulsion of Palestinian MPs

Europol warns 'Lone wolf' terror attacks hard to track

Turkey blocks WikiLeaks email dump on ruling party

Three French soldiers killed in Libya

Turkey's battle with PKK continues through coup drama

Saudi carries out 99 executions this year

Turkey bans academics from work trips abroad

Beijing policies pushing Chinese Muslims to join IS

Canada pledges $158 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq

French PM: There will be other attacks