By Uduak Thomas, M.A.
A medical anthropologist from Michigan State University has found that villagers in Bangladesh are increasingly being exploited by human organ traffickers and pressured to sell their kidneys or portions of their liver on the black market in order to repay collateral-free microcredit loans — about $50 on average — which they’ve used to start small businesses.
According to a press release issued by MSU (available here), Monir Moniruzzaman, an assistant professor in the university’s Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, has been researching the illegal trade in his native Bangladesh for about 12 years and says that he has seen it grow from relative obscurity to pervasive phenomenon.
Today, he says, the illegal sale of organs from living donors is so widespread that entire families — many of whom are uneducated — have been exploited. Now, husbands commonly pressure their wives and other family members to sell an organ believing that they’ll make enough to escape from poverty. Others are also being tricked into selling parts of their livers believing that they’ll make quick money and that the excised portions will grow back.
In fact, it’s gotten so profitable that hospital officials and medical professionals are starting to cash in. In the capital city of Dhaka, there are around 10 transplant hospitals up from one in 2005.
And the vicious circle of abuse is widening. Previous sellers, now too weak to work, are becoming brokers themselves and arranging deals between prospective sellers and doctors, according to Moniruzzaman. “They feel they have no choice,” he says.
He shares the stories of women like Selina Akther who sold a kidney to repay her husband’s microcredit loans and now suffers from daily pain and the scorn of fellow villagers. Her brother-in-law, Mohammed Saharul Islam, said he also had to part with his kidney because he couldn’t afford to pay back multiple loans. Selina’s father-in-law and husband have also gone through the same procedure.
Moniruzzaman has submitted his research findings and recommendations on organ trafficking to both the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He’s asking the US and the global community to be more proactive in stopping the sale of illegal organs.
If you’d like to know more about Moniruzzaman’s work, he has published papers in Medical Anthropology Quarterly and also in the University of Toronto’s ComparativeProgram on Health and Society Working Paper Series.
“Living Cadavers” in Bangladesh: Bioviolence in the Human Organ Bazaar. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 2012; 26(1): 69-91.
Underground Fieldwork with 33 Kidney Sellers in Bangladesh: Issues of Access and Methods. In: Cohen JC, Seaton B, eds.Comparative Program on Health and Society Working Paper Series 2006–2007. Toronto: Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto; 2007; 83-108.
Uduak Thomas, M.A., is a journalist and science writer specializing in medical research and healthcare. She is Social Media Editor for Cancer InCytes Magazine.