Senate to probe illegal human organ trade

- Aurea Calica () - December 16, 2007 - 12:00am

The Senate is seeking to stop the rise of the illegal human organ trade in the Philippines, which is becoming one of the top suppliers of kidneys to First World countries like the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid filed Resolution No. 214 directing the Senate committees on health and demography and other appropriate panels to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the problem.

Sen. Loren Legarda, for her part, filed Senate Bill 1958 to “uphold the nobility and dignity of donation” and eliminate marketing of human organs for profit.

The two senators cited reports from International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Cable News Network (CNN) that trafficking of human organs was now on the rise in China and in poor countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The IOM also said that the Philippines, India, Colombia and Brazil were among the known suppliers of human kidneys to developed countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said kidney failure was increasingly common in rich countries, often because of obesity or hypertension, but a growing shortage of transplant organs fuelled a black market exploiting needy donors and undermining voluntary donation schemes.

According to WHO estimates, the Philippines hosted up to 200 “transplant tourists” in the recent years. Of the 468 kidney transplants in the country in 2003 alone, 110 were for patients from abroad, the senators said.

The resolution also noted a Department of Health report that indeed much of the trade in human organs, especially kidneys, was taking place in the black market.

The DOH cited a recent University of the Philippines study that revealed that there were 3,000 men and women who had sold one of their kidneys for P70,OOO to P120,OOO in Isla Baseco in Manila. There are  45,000 residents in the slum area.

A study conducted by Norbert Lameire of the International Society of Nephrology also disclosed the United Arab Emirates was sending its kidney patients to the Philippines for transplants.

“The health insurance takes care of the $95,000 fees of which $10,000 go to the kidney donor,” the resolution read.

“There is an urgent need for the government to initiate a series of consultations with private and public health sector leaders on how to regulate organ donation in the face of rampant illegal trafficking in human organs,” Lapid said in his resolution.

Under her bill, Legarda, on the other hand, proposed penalties for persons who would buy and sell human organs or tissues for profit.

She said those who sold their organs were possibly not aware of the long-term health and psychosocial implications of their decisions.  

Legarda added the sale of human organs, especially kidneys, might put those without money at a disadvantage.

“At present, the highest bidder for an organ obtains a status of privilege because of his wealth. At least 30,000 Filipinos have diseased kidneys, but many of them cannot afford the expense of transplantation, widely regarded by the World Health Organization as the best solution to end-stage organ failure,” she said.

“In five leading hospitals in Manila, including the state-run National Kidney and Transplant Institute, about 250 kidney transplants are performed every year, many of them for wealthy Filipino families and foreigners,” Legarda added.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 200 to 300 Americans a year go to China, the Philippines and South America for transplants.

Legarda said Republic Act No. 7170 or the Organ Donation Act of 1991covered only cadaver donors and the concept of brain death.

The DOH Administrative Order No. 124 clearly states that the sale and purchase of kidney organs by donors are prohibited and penalties for violations are also laid down in this issuance.

“In spite of these measures, kidney sale still is a commonplace in depressed communities, proving that we need a strong proposal that will put an end to this,” she said.

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