By Katica Djurovic
The financial crisis in Europe has sparked an increase in the trade of human body parts, as families and individuals scramble to put food on the table. More and more people in the region are opting for this route: online classifieds are full of ads about body parts for sale, despite bans on this kind of trade.
“I am healthy, no hereditary illness, blood group 0+. I offer my kidney for financial substitution,” read an ad on a Bosnian news portal posted by Danijel S., 33, at the end of June.
“If I sell my kidney it is going to be an investment in my future. I don’t work, my wife doesn’t work and we have a small child. With this money, I can have a normal life,” he told SETimes.
His story is far from unique. In most ads, people state financial difficulties as the main reason for selling body parts. Harvesting a kidney poses few risks to the donor.
The New York Times brought the issue of illegal organ trafficking into sharp focus when it reported on the shift in market from the Far East and South America to Europe, especially Serbia, Kosovo, Greece and Moldova.
Though authorities in each country categorically deny the possibility of illegal organ transplantation, no one denies that people may be travelling elsewhere for surgery.
“It is possible that people travel abroad in order to meet the buyer and do the surgery over there, but in Serbia it is impossible, because of the law and because of the medical, technological and bureaucratic procedures,” Danica Mihajlovic, of the Directorate of Biomedicine at the Ministry of Health, told SETimes. In Serbia, the penalty for selling organ is up to ten years imprisonment.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the illegal trade in kidneys is sharply expanding worldwide, and has risen to an estimated 10,000 black market operations involving purchased human organs, or one per hour. The UN estimates that 5% to 10% of kidney transplants performed each year are the result of organ trafficking.
Kosovo gained notoriety after an organ trafficking ring was discovered few years ago. Seven Kosovars accused of participating in this trade are on trial, accused of luring people from formerly Communist countries to Pristina, with false promises of payments up to 15,000 euros.
Montenegrin citizen Izet Luboder was arrested late last year for organising a trade of organs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The buying and selling of organs is big business in Europe’s poorest country, Moldova. A key supplier to the world organ trade, Moldova’s kidneys are the cheapest in Europe. According to the NGO Renal Foundation, which combats organ trafficking in Moldova, a kidney costs 1,500 to 5,000 euros.
Last year, Romanian journalists discovered a network of organ sellers and buyers among medical professionals and some top hospitals. The price of a Romanian kidney is around 13,000 euros.
Not everybody thinks that the organ trade should be illegal.
Djukan D., 60, of Podgorica battled kidney failure more than ten years ago, but in Yugoslavia at that time, the waiting list was huge and prospects for survival until a donor was found were grim. That’s why Djukan went to India in 2000 where he bought a kidney and underwent transplant.
“I owe my life to that guy,” Djukan told SETimes.
While illegal organ trade is flourishing, legal organs are in short supply. The Netherlands Health Council estimates around 95,000 people await kidney transplants in the US, and another 65,000 in Europe. WHO estimates that only 10% of the world demand for organs is being met.