Police investigates export of body parts

Doctors suspected to be behind racket

KAMPALA – Police is investigating the possible existence of a well-organised racket, exporting human organs to the US and European countries.

The underhand international trade in human organs has been growing over the past few years, as new lifestyles in the rich west cause new diseases. The organs are transplanted into bodies of rich patients who can expensively pay for them.

The deputy chief of the police’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Mr Okoth Ochola confirmed to Sunday Monitor Saturday morning that police had gone into full swing to get to the truth of the matter.

“Yes we have got some information that there is a possibility that there is a racket dealing in human organs trafficking. We have started investigations. We have cast the net in the sea and are waiting for results,” said Ochola.

Another police source told Sunday Monitor, the line of investigations is that the current widespread ritual murders rocking the country are apparently a cover up. In early May, police uncovered several graves in Mityana, Mubende district.

The suspects; Mr James Kityo, Mr Rogers Kitumba and Ms Harriet Namboga, claimed they were cannibals. But some of the bodies recovered were missing vital organs. Police now is probing the line that the cannibal theory was a cover up.

There is also no law in Uganda under which one can be charged with cannibalism. Surprisingly, people in Mityana told police that the home of the suspected cannibals used to be frequented by posh cars. And to come up with the cannibalism theory, someone with legal expertise must have briefed the suspects.

Sunday Monitor has learnt that a kidney could fetch up to Shs 25 million, while a heart goes for a lot more cash. When cult leader Joseph Kibwetere burnt thousands of people in Kanungu district, in 2000, several mass graves were discovered through out the country. It is believed these might have been victims of the international racket – dealing in human organs.

Years back, the human organs trade was very active in Nicaragua, Hungary and Vietnam but was bust and it spread wings to African countries where security is a bit lax.

To remove the organs, one would require a qualified surgeon. So police is investigating the possibility of involvement of Uganda surgeons in the gory trade. As a cover up, when the vital organs are removed, the tongue and private parts are usually cut off to make it appear like a ritual murder, says police.

Human organs trafficking is one of the most lucrative, in the under world business. Many kidney and heart patients who need transplants fail to get donors.

Former Ugandan president Idi Amin Dada last year died in a Saudi Arabian hospital of kidney failure. He failed to get a kidney donor. The commercial trade in human body parts is no longer confined to the poor developing countries.

Apparently, Eastern and Central Europe are now becoming a source of cheap human kidneys and other organs – for the booming transplant industry.

Investigations are continuing in Tallinn, following revelations in January that two Israeli doctors performed kidney transplant on six Israeli nationals, using kidneys donated from natives of Romania, Moldova and Russia.

The surgery was organised in Estonia because transplantation of organs is legally prohibited in Israel. One must have special permission from the health minister, unless the donor is a relative of the patient.

The Israeli surgeons said the donors had given their kidneys voluntarily and free of charge. However Estonian police have launched criminal proceedings against the surgeons, the patients and the donors on grounds that they concealed the aim of their visit in their visa applications.

All the necessary papers were filled out. The Israelis paid the Estonians 80,000 kroons (5,500 dollars) for the kidney transplant operation.

Last year, an Israel newspaper Ha’aretz said that each kidney operation cost the patient US $150,000. Chaim Efraima, an adviser with the Priaso sponsorship company, which organised the kidney transplant operations, said his company charged US $160,000 for each operation.

Efraima denied that his company helped find donors, but did ensure that the donor signed a statement to confirm that he had received no payment of any kind for his services from the patient.

He insisted that it was not his business to find out ‘’whether a certain envelope (of money) has changed hands or not.’’ Estonia was chosen because ‘’compared with top-notch medics in any western country, Estonian doctors are at least their equals, if not better’’.

Israeli Public Health Ministry statistics show that the number of Israelis waiting for kidneys is increasing, while the number of kidney transplant operations has remained relatively small.

In 1995 only 21 percent of patients needing a kidney received one. This fell to 15 percent in 1996. At present there are 900 persons on the list of patients waiting for a kidney transplant operation in Israel – and the list is growing longer every day.

The head doctor of Tallinn’s Mustamae hospital, Teet Lainevee, however, pointed out that there are no real laws governing transplants in Estonia.

However, India still heads the list of countries engaged in the commercial sale of human organs. Over each of the last five years 2,000 or more kidneys have changed bodies, with over 10 percent estimated to have been sold.

Doctors charge about US $1,660 for the surgery. The trade also involves agents, who seek out potential donors, and the paid donors. For many donors, the price paid for an organ could be more than they could save in a lifetime.

The prices for organs taken from live patients in eastern Europe run at about: US $4,425 for a cornea, US $55 for a patch of skin, and US $10,000 – $20,000 for a kidney, according to researchers in the trade. These figures may vary, depending on circumstances.

In China, donors may not be so lucky. Chinese prisoners have their organs removed upon death. According to Human Rights Watch/Asia, about 2,000-3,000 organs a year are cut from the bodies of executed prisoners.

The transplant service is readily available to high-ranking party officials and cash-paying foreigners. There is also a market in Hong Kong, where only 50-60 kidneys are replaced each year, while the waiting list for transplants is around 500.

In some cases organs may simply be ‘’stolen’’ from dead donors. Last year the German magazine Der Spiegel investigated the autopsy trade in which human body parts are smuggled out of hospital morgues and sold to local drug companies.

The companies buy meninges — the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord — by tens of thousands to make a valuable medication used in skin transplants. Muscle membranes from corpses’ thighs are sold to firms that market reconstructive surgery.

Like Israel, Germany has found Estonia to be a useful partner in this trade. Last year the Estonian daily Postimees reported that the Medical Examiner’s Bureau sold human transplant tissues to the US-German company Biodynamics International between 1992-1996.

These included bone tissue and parts of the tough membrane around the brain, called dura mater. Doctors said the proceeds from such sales were used to repair morgues and buy equipment. The tissues were shipped in containers provided by the buyer. - Additional notes from the Internet

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