Icon - Important Information about Scams and Illegal Kidney Transactions

Important Information about Scams and Illegal Kidney Transactions

By Dr Campbell Fraser

Online patient support groups are an invaluable resource for people living with kidney disease.  Sadly, throughout the world, criminal gangs attempt to abuse these resources in order to lure vulnerable patients with promises of a kidney transplant overseas. 

Many online advertisements offering kidneys for sale are scams.  Several patients have lost thousands of dollars after sending money overseas as pre-payment for what they believe to be a kidney transplant. After electronically transferring funds, the “brokers” disappear and the money is lost forever. Some patients have lost over $100,000 by becoming involved with these scammers.

Even if the offer of an overseas transplant turns out to be genuine, you should remember that in almost all countries in the world, it is illegal to buy or sell a kidney.  Get caught and you could well find yourself with a long sentence in an overseas prison.

Kidney transplants in illegal clinics overseas also have very poor clinical outcomes. This is because:

  • Surgeons performing these transplants are often not qualified to perform complex procedures.
  • The transplant will likely be performed a small makeshift clinic lacking even the most basic surgical facilities.  These backstreet clinics offer no aftercare support, and provide no documentation regarding the origin of the kidney. They discharge patients as quickly as possible in order to avoid detection from authorities.
  • Patients are often detained in squalid conditions by the broker until the day of surgery, and they usually don’t know the name of the hospital or surgeon until the transplant takes place.
  • Patients are typically smuggled into the hospital, and the transplants performed during the night to avoid being caught.
  • These clinics care only about making money. They have no concern whatsoever regarding the success of the procedure.
  • Organs used will probably not have been checked for infectious diseases–patients have been known to contract HIV after receiving an infected kidney during an illegal transplant. There have been many patients who have died from infection following illegal overseas transplantation.
  • Kidneys are often not well matched to recipients, and due to surgical complications, patients may ultimately have to have their transplanted kidney surgically removed when they return home. 
  • Brokers usually keep asking for more money, even after the agreed sum has been paid.  There are many reports of patients being denied essential medication unless they pay exorbitant fees to obtain them.

Illegal overseas transplants are not just bad news for the potential recipient.

Kidneys are generally obtained from people who have trafficked far from home then forced into selling. They are often in a state of very poor health, and would never have been accepted to be a live kidney donor program in a legal transplant centre.

Sellers receive only a tiny fraction of the money you have paid, and almost always paid much less than they were promised. For this reason, kidney sellers will often beg for more money from patients after the transplant is completed.

The kidney will have been removed from the seller using crude surgical methods, which can result in lifelong disability for them. The seller is typically discharged without any follow up care, and they frequently develop serious infection shortly after.

Sometimes, illegal transplant clinics also use deceased donor organs that do not meet quality standards required by mainstream legal transplant centres, and this inevitably lead to very poor outcomes for patients who receive them.

The money raised from organ trafficking is frequently used to fund criminal organisations, and more recently, evidence shows that in some countries it is a major fundraising activity of terrorists.

If you are approached by someone online offering you an overseas kidney transplant–report it immediately.

Dr Campbell Fraser is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Brisbane. His main area of interest is in the international human organ trade, and he travels extensively to engage with those who have been trafficked for their organs and liaise with health authorities, NGOs and law enforcement agencies leading the fight against human trafficking.

Campbell is a member of the Declaration of Istanbul Custodian Group, an international organisation tasked with combating transplant tourism. His work with this group involves advocating for the planning, development and implementation of anti-trafficking strategies throughout Asia.

Campbell is himself a kidney transplant recipient, and has first-hand experience of waiting for a donor organ to become available. It was through this journey that he developed his interest in organ donation and the illegal organ trade.

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