Feature: Organ Trafficking Gangs are Cashing in on Egypt's Economic Woes

Published August 24th, 2017 - 09:02 GMT
Desperate Egyptians are being forced to sell their organs (AFP)
Desperate Egyptians are being forced to sell their organs (AFP)

Desperate Egyptians are being forced to sell their organs after a series of government measures left many of the country’s poorest struggling to make ends meet.

Police in the city of Giza claim to have smashed a major organ trafficking ring and arrested 12 people including doctors and nurses from hospitals across the country.

A statement from the country’s Interior Ministry said that the suspects belonged to a “large criminal network specialized in trading human organs.”

The gang“agreed with Egyptians to transfer some of their organs to foreign patients in exchange for large sums of money, exploiting people’s financial need,” the statement added.

The group included 3 doctors and 4 nurses alongside 2 hospital workers and 2 agents. The gang was allegedly busted while carrying out an operation to snatched the kidney and liver of a patient at a private hospital in Giza after a man agreed to sell his organs for $10,000.

The news comes just days after the government was left fuming over a German documentary that exposed the prevalence of such operations on Egyptian soil.

A statement questioned the movie’s credibility and it said the film “harms Egyptian medical tourism, as part of a systematic campaign to harm the country’s national security. The documentary is an attempt to defame medical tourism in Egypt,” the health ministry added.

German journalist Thilo Mischke exposed the manager of a private hospital, and a trafficker alongside two Sudanese migrants who were allegedly victims of organ trafficking rings during the film which went viral online.

Government officials claimed that ministry teams perform strict reviews that strictly monitor Egyptian hospitals that are licensed to perform organ transplant operations.

However, all the denials in the world cannot hide the fact that the country has become one of the world’s top destinations for organ trafficking.

This is not a new trend for Egypt. In 2010, the World Health Organisation ranked Egypt among the top five countries in the world trading illegally in organs.

That same year, the country’s  parliament passed a law that year banning commercial trade in organs as well as transplants between Egyptians and foreigners, except between husbands and wives.

But the law means little in a country where some are forced to sell their body parts in order to live.

Egypt’s shocking wealth gap leaves much of the population existing on less than a couple of dollars per day and a sharp rise in prices has meant that it is hard for many of the country’s poor to make ends meet.

Periodically, the government arrests the organ trading gangs in a bid to show that it has stamped out the issue.

At the end of last year 25 people, including doctors and university professors were nabbed by police after they were suspected of forming a ghoulish network trading in body parts.

Meanwhile, last year also saw 41 defendants referred to criminal court for running an organ trafficking network.

A probe later revealed that the defendants had performed illegal operations between Egyptians and foreigners between January 2011 and December 2016 and bought organs for prices ranging from LE10,000-50,000 per kidney.

Sadly, the problem seems likely to worsen as the government plans to remove controversial subsidies which long provided a cushion for the country’s poorest.

Earlier this year, the government scrapped fuel subsidies after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi approved a draft state budget that reduces the budget deficit to 9.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 11.5 percent.

Alongside fuel, electricity and water prices have also been hiked by the government in recent months.

Add to this, the government’s decision to float the country’s currency last year - a move which saw the value of the EGP drop by half against the USD - and it is easy to see that such measures have had a knock-on effect and sent the price of many everyday goods and services on the streets of Egypt soaring.

The government has even talked of scrapping bread subsidies in recent months but u-turned on such a move following a widespread public protest.

The reality for many Egyptians is bleak and despite an increase in the public sector minimum wage to 2000 EGP ($112 USD), most workers are struggling to make ends meet under the El-Sisi regime.
These conditions have made poor Egyptian residents the perfect target for organ trading groups.

Typically, those targeted are the most vulnerable in society, the poor or migrants struggling to make ends meet.

One unnamed medic revealed the depths reached by those targeting organ trafficking victims.

“Typically, potential donors are recruited n one of two ways, either by crooked state hospital who seek out those struggling financially in their care who will then pass the patient’s details to a broker or poor donors meet with a broker in a local neighborhood setting,” he said.

“A meeting is usually arranged outside of a medical setting, in a local cafe for instance, where the donor will meet with the broker to haggle over the price of their organs,” he added.

“After that, they will arrange a doctor to carry out the transplant and the rest is history,” he added.

However, those sacrificing their organs for cash rarely see much of the payout received by the organ gangs.

The WHO estimates claim that donors can pocket as little as $2,000 USD for selling a kidney, just 10% of the amount spent by the patient undergoing the transplant. Most of the cash is then split between a network of brokers and doctors.

Despite this, the ongoing cash crunch means that the prospect of selling an organ is a reality for many hard-pressed Egyptians.

While arresting crooked medics may stem the problem in the short term, the dark economic conditions facing many mean that the future looks increasingly bright for the country’s organ trafficking gangs.

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