Friday, September 21, 2007
Nepal's Kidney Racket
Dakshindhoka, a small town in the northeastern outskirts of Kathmandu is busy in the eve of Teej, a Hindu festival for woman. I disembarked from an overcrowded blue minibus and started searching for Deepak Lama, my contact person. He leads me to a place where much of organ trade takes place.
We reach a four-storey building that houses a carpet factory. The neighborhood is bustling with activities: naked children playing; football match going on. It is hard to believe that this non-descript ghetto where carpet and garment workers from outside Kathmandu live and work, is another epicenter for selling kidneys. What I saw there left me stunned.
Meet twenty five year old Sagar Lama who in a last-ditch attempt to pay his debts, sold his kidney two years ago. Sagar is wearing a white undershirt and trousers. He tells me he sold his kidney after one Dinesh Magar from Jhapa persuaded him to do so for 80 thousand rupees (Approx 1,200 US $). He along with a broker Ashok Magar went to Chennai, India. Unlettered Sagar doesn't know the surgeon's name or even who the patient was. All he knows is his kidney was transplanted to an Indian.
As kidney trade is a shadowy and illegal business, there are always chances of donors being duped. Sagar was finally given 55 thousand rupees, 25 thousand less than promised. Shyam Lama, another kidney donor from Sindhupalchowk district, cuts a forlorn figure. "I needed money, so I decided to sell it," he tells me, leaving me flabbergasted; the simplicity of his statement and the complexity of this trade of gloom and doom that is tarnishing the image of Nepal.
Meanwhile, Hari Narayan Lama, a kidney broker and his accomplice Prem Lama were arrested by police three weeks ago. Police Inspector Uma Prasad Chaturvedi of Jansewa Police Beat, New Road, Kathmandu arrested them after a tip-off from Nir Bahadur Lama, a garment worker at Dakshindhoka. Dinesh Lama, Hari's accomplice, lured Nir Bahadur into selling kidney.
I was shocked to hear this news because I had met Hari in jail three years ago for a cover story on kidney trade for NEPAL magazine. Meeting him last Monday morning, I recalled our last meeting. Three years ago, he was spending his jail term for selling more that fifty human kidneys. How can the same person commit the same heinous crime again? I immediately realized that there is something terribly wrong in our punishment system. A criminal who spends considerable amount of time behind the bars is expected to be a good citizen upon his release. But, here was something that shattered this notion.
Hari Narayan, tears in his eyes (he also sold his kidney and his wife's before organizing the racket), says he will not repeat the crime again. But, his words have failed his deeds.
The carpet workers are falling prey to the likes of Hari. The carpet workers who had already sold their kidneys lure them. These donors morph into middle men. The modus operandi goes like this: poor factory workers enticed into selling kidney. These middlemen display their own scars to prove that they have remained healthy despite selling kidney. Gullible workers who are often in dire needs of money fall on the traps. Their blood group identified, health check ups done, eventually they end up in Chennai.
Hari Narayan used to operate from a guesthouse in Bagbazar, the inner part of Kathmandu. He posed as an agent sending workers to Gulf countries. He told me he would accompany the donors up to Indo-Nepal border and hands them over to one Rajan Damai who seems to be the chief racketeer. He also appears to be a master of disguise; changing names and addresses frequently.
In India, mostly in Chennai, the donors are kept in dark. Unfamiliar with the local language and the surroundings, they have to rely on the wily organ traders. The transplant takes place in MMM, MITO, St Thomas, Santos Hospitals.
At least sixty persons in Dakshindhoka area have already donated kidney. The eastern part of Kathmandu i.e. Jorpati, Gokarana, Mulpani could be home to four to 5 hundred kidney donors, locals say. The Human Organ Transplant Act 1998 has banned the sale of kidney. But, the trade goes unabated. One reason is lack of transplantation facility in Nepal. I strongly urge the authorities to allow the medical institutions the service of transplantation at the earliest. This could only possibly put a kibosh on illegal organ trade.
Related links: Read Chennai based investigative journalist Scott Carney's blog on kidney racket in South India.
A BBC report on Nepal's kidney trade