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.

 

Sisi pledges tougher laws against militants after prosecutor killing

28 killed in IS attack on Huthi rebel leaders in Sanaa

Kuwait in ‘state of war’ after mosque suicide bombing

Negotiators extend deadline for Iran nuclear talks

Tennis star urges tourists to stand with Tunisia against terrorism

‘Islamic State’ re-enters Syria border town of Tal Abyad

Defiant tourists stay in Tunisia

Deadly clashes rage on in eastern Libya

Only mobile phone company in Gaza closed by Hamas

Zarif keeps cards close to chest as he meets Kerry

Orange reaches deal with Israel's Partner after spat

Iranians take to streets of Tehran to demand ‘good nuclear deal’

Turkey 'ready to help' Greece out of economic crisis

French prosecutor confirms IS link to factory beheading

Tunisia ‘was not prepared’ for beach massacre

Tunisia makes first beach massacre arrests

Tunisia attack set to wipe $500 million off economy

IS beheads two female ‘sorcerers’ in Syria

US resumes security aid to Bahrain

Britons death toll in Tunisia attack to soar to 'around 30'

US official says method found for access to suspect Iran sites

Turkey holds top security meet

Israel to Syria rebels: 'Don't mess with the Druze'

Egypt state prosecutor dead after Cairo bomb attack

Iranians anxious as talks stumble

Qatar concedes 'much more needs to be done' on labour law

'Unprecedented situation' for Sudan's journalists

Egypt's state prosecutor injured in bomb attack

UAE woman sentenced to death for killing US teacher

Israel escorts flotilla defying Gaza blockade

Islamic State 'caliphate' enters second year with more bloodshed

Tunisia to arm tourist police after Sousse attack

Repatriation of two Tunisians once held by CIA

Key confidante of Syria president dies of illness

Libya rival factions sit at same table for first time

Students may have left Sudan for ‘Islamic State’

Tense nuclear talks set to go beyond deadline as differences remain

Kuwait names Saudi man as suicide bomber in mosque attack

Armed police swarm streets of Tunisia beach resorts

Turkey wants more walls on border with Syria

Tunisia unites in pain and shock as hope slips away

Abadi: ‘Unauthorised’ withdrawal of Iraq forces led to loss of Ramadi

Negotiators ‘need to work really hard’ as nuclear talks begin

Iraq arrests Saddam-era official following arduous operation

Syria Kurds take full control of Kobane after killing spree by jihadists