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New organ donation campaign to crack down on thriving black market

India’s kidney villages may be living on borrowed time. These desperately poor villages are preyed upon by organ traffickers who seek to buy kidneys from healthy but impoverished rural people.

A nationwide awareness campaign aims to increase the number of legitimate organ donations in response to shortages in the country and to stop the booming trade in black market organs.

The campaign, titled “poochna mat bhoolo” or “don’t forget to ask”, will target three lakh (300,000) doctors. It will involve a text based system reminding doctors to ask families of the deceased whether they wish to donate their loved one’s organs.

There is a vast discrepancy between the number of organ donations needed and those that actually occur. In the example of kidney transplants, Ministry of Health data indicates that annually between one and two lakh transplants are required, the number of actual transplants taking place is around 5000.

The Poochna mat bhoolo drive is an attempt at addressing this discrepancy. Krishan Kumar Aggarwal, president of the Indian Medical Association has said “Families don’t remember to donate organs when a loved one dies, or it’s too late by the time they do. So we are reminding doctors to speak to them immediately after a death”. It is hoped this will increase the supply of donated organs to ease the shortages.

The black market trade of organs is another target of the drive. In August of 2016 the CEO of Hiranandani hospital, as well as four doctors were arrested by Mumbai police upon discovery of a kidney racket at the hospital.

Situations for some impoverished villages have become desperate. Bindol, in North Dinajpur has come to be known as the “kidney village”. Where business is sparse and the population’s overwhelmingly poor this manner of situation takes root. Villagers are receiving Rs. 60,000-100,000 for a kidney, and accepting these terms as it means staving off starvation. The men in charge of this kidney racket grow wealthy from the profits, able to name their price to those desperate for a life saving operation.

Poochna mat bhoolo could theoretically eliminate the possibility of middlemen offering patients money for the organ donation, though after the revelation that the trafficking rings may even include doctors and CEOs, this is now less assured.

India has long neglected the importance of organ transplantation. Though there have been recent surges in those signing up to be organ donors in cities such as Kolhapur, the statistics for actual transplantations performed in the last few decades are damning.

According to the Indian transplant registry between 1971 and 2015, only 21,395 kidney transplants were performed. Of these only 783 were from kidneys sourced from cadavers. This total over a 30 year period does not even account for the Ministry of Health estimates for a single year, said to be 1 to 2 lakh.

This is an abysmally low transplant rate. If this remains unaddressed in the coming years it may cause huge problems to Indian healthcare as kidney disease is becoming more prevalent at an alarming rate. Poochna mat bhoolo may be far too little, far too late. More radical solutions may be in order if the problem is left unresolved.


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