The illegal trade in human organs is one of the darkest secrets of modern medicine. It was, therefore, no surprise last week when the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, alerted Nigerians to the incidence of illegal harvesting of organs in some unscrupulous foreign hospitals. In a letter signed on the minister’s behalf by the Director of Hospital Services, Dr. Wapada I. Balami, the Federal Ministry of Health announced an alarming increase in illegal harvesting and transplanting of organs, and the ongoing prosecution of 41 suspected kidney traffickers by the Egyptian authorities. vice to the nation.
The letter, which was addressed to the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Mike Ogirima, urged the association to ensure that Nigerians are educated on the dangers of undergoing surgery abroad. The NMA was also directed to disseminate the information to doctors in the relevant “specialties” so that Nigerians would be “circumspect” about the hospitals from which they seek medical treatment abroad. A list of four Egyptian hospitals suspected to be involved in the heinous practice was released by the ministry. We commend Prof. Adewole and the Ministry of Health for the timely disclosure of this very important information. The warning should be noted by anyone venturing abroad for medical reasons. Stories of people losing their organs through deceptive surgeries may sound incredible but they are sometimes true. The demand for human organs far outstrips supply. This has given rise to the illegal trade in human organs estimated to be worth more than $1.2 billion a year. Vulnerable Nigerians are thought to be victims of the trade. The Times of London, in June last year, disclosed the fate of some African migrants who got stranded in the North African country, Libya, after their hopes of connecting Europe were dashed. The newspaper quoted a former trafficker, Mouredin Atta, as saying that “African migrants who cannot pay for their passage to Europe are being sold for $15,000 to Egyptians who harvest their organs.” The man, who later became an informant to the Italian Police, said the Egyptians took the organs away in thermal pouches. His disclosures led to 23 arrests and the seizure of 526,000 Euros from a perfume shop in Rome being used as a front by organ merchants. In May 2017, a Nigerian civil society group, Patriotic Citizen Initiatives (PCI), revealed that it had received reports from Nigerians serving jail terms in China about the unexplained disappearances of Nigerians from Chinese jail houses, with strong suspicious that they were taken out of their cells and executed by prison officials for the purpose of harvesting and selling their organs. Although those allegations could not be substantiated, reports from other sources justify the suspicion owing to the high number of kidney transplants reported in China (10,000 a year), during which there were only 130 kidney donors. PCI’s concerns were re-echoed by another organisation, the Black African Re-orientation and Development Organisation (BARADO), which recently held a public protest in Abuja to lament the high number of Nigerians (6,000) in Chinese jails. Its Executive Director, Nkem Anyata-Lafia, claimed that 55 per cent of those prisoners were jailed unlawfully, while allegations of the harvesting of their organs were rife. She called on the Federal Government to negotiate with the Chinese government for the release of these prisoners so that they can serve out their terms in Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Health should keep Nigerians informed about the organ trade and investigate suspicious cases. Indeed, two months ago, the Director-General of the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Julie Okah-Donli, observed that the emerging trends of trafficking include organ transplant and organ harvesting. “(Trafficking) is gone beyond prostitution now because those involved think it is an easier way to make more money.” Except for Iran where the organ trade is legalised, and supply seems to match demand, most countries have a waiting period of up to three years to get an organ. The world frowns at the trade, and it is largely conducted underground. Poor donors are allegedly paid between $1,200 to $10,000 for a kidney, which is in turn sold for between $25,000 and $160,000. Nigerians who have to travel to seek medical treatment abroad and those travelling out through illegal and unconventional routes such as the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea must be wary not to become victims of organ traders. Nigerian authorities must also watch out to ensure that no such nefarious trade is conducted in the country.