India: Chennai's urban slums a boon for kidney traffickers, but misery for debt-ridden donors Print E-mail
Thursday March 29 2007
Tamil Nadu - Chennai

Poverty fuels sale of kidneys

Ramya Kannan

Many sell their organs to settle debts


Urban slums have been the target of brokers and middlemen The sale has not benefited the donors substantially

CHENNAI: In every kidney commerce story, poverty turns up like a bad penny.

No longer than a month ago, despite the clampdown on kidney sale, the Directorate of Medical Education received a letter from a person imploring it to buy his kidney for just Rs.30, 000. The writer said the money would come handy for him to settle debts.

In September last year, a hand printed notice was nailed to the trunk of a tree roughly opposite a hospital in South Chennai. The note, written in Tamil, had a 30-year-old youth offering his `A-group kidney' for sale. When The Hindu spoke to the advertiser (the number was posted on the notice) he claimed he was selling his kidney to settle debts. He stressed that no broker was involved and that he could not think of any other way to get rid of his debts in a single go. Poverty, as much as the inability of supply to meet demand, fuels organ trade. Repeatedly, urban slums have been the target of brokers and middlemen seeking to keep up a steady supply of kidneys to hospitals in the State, especially in the metros.

Particularly, in Chennai, over the years, there have been frequent instances of the police stumbling on kidney-racket cases. Villivakkam was dubbed `Kidneyvakkam' when an expose in the late 1990s revealed that almost every house in the area had a member who had sold his or her kidney.

Even after selling their kidneys, the donors found they had not benefited substantially from the transaction. The study said participants admitted to worsening of their economic status: the average family income had declined over the period and the cash received had been spent speedily to settle debts and pay for food and clothing. At Ernavur, Thilagavathy, who sold her kidney in 2003, complained that she had become so weak after the operation that she had to give up selling fish, her family's only source of income. It is also the case with Rani Chellappan who donated her kidney and later suffered a fall, further debilitating her.

At a co-ordination meeting organised by the Government here in early March to chalk out a plan to eliminate kidney rackets, Health Secretary V.K. Subburaj acknowledged that 90 per cent of live-unrelated donors were living below the poverty line and selling the organ to settle debts.

Some doctors who attended the meeting also highlighted the need to examine poverty as the other side of the coin. They also made the case for implementing poverty alleviation schemes in urban slums, besides providing "risk groups" with training in alternative vocations.