Friday 23 October 2009

Iraqis sell organs to survive

Raad Bader al-Muhssin, 41, worked as a gardener for more than 20 years, during which he used to make no more than $4 dollars per day.

After the 2003 US invasion and the ensuing violence, life became harder as the number of clients requesting his services nosedived.

Adding insult to the injury was the recent discovery that his wife had cancer.

Thus, when he was offered $12,000 dollars for one of his kidney he did not hesitate or have second thoughts.

"I never had more than $100 dollars in my pocket at the end of the month, even if I didn’t spend one cent from my salary," Muhssin told

"I lived my whole life a poor man and was afraid my children were going to have the same fate and my wife would die because we do not have money to help her," he added.

Five months ago when he was cleaning a garden in Baghdad, the owner started to speak with Muhssin about kidney transplantations and a friend who arranges them.

"I never imagined I would become a donor but when my wife’s condition got worse, I went to his house and asked for a way to find his friend who would guide me to the similar fate."

Muhssin called the friend who told him he had to take a blood test to check if he had any health problems.

"I borrowed some money and made it in a private lab. When I took the test results, the guy checked in a list he had in his pocket and came with the news that he had four patients with the same blood type and that they would pay good money for it."

Experts say organs donations, which are not illegal, have impressively increased in the past 18 months.

"It is a very complicated issue, especially because there isn’t any law that prevent donations," Abdel Haythem Abdel-Kareem, a health expert and member of the transplantation chamber, told IOL.

"Of course there are many cases of free donation but the majority are looking for money and even travelling to Jordan where prices are higher with patients coming from different countries willing to pay for it."

There isn’t an official number of how many transplantations are carried out in Iraq every year but local NGOs helping patients looking for organs donations say that one in 500 persons accept to donate without financial interest.

Al-Muhssin made the donation, got his money and opened a small shop to sell gums, cigarettes, cereals and beans.

"It is one chance in life," he suggested.

"I still have a healthy kidney and with the money I got I will never be humiliated again," he added.

"My sons returned to school and our life changed. If I was going to wait for the government to help my family, I would have died before getting it."

Salwa Ahmed (not her real name), is another victim of poverty in Iraq.

After her husband died in a car bomb attack in Diyala four years ago, she moved to Baghdad with her four kids to find a better job and better living conditions.

"I was already living as displaced, my kids were hungry all day because I couldn’t afford more than one meal," she said.

"When a woman in the camp said that there was someone who constantly pays them visits asking for kidney donation, I got excited and was prepared to sell one and give my children a better living condition," Ahmed added.

"At first he wanted to pay only US $3,000 but after two weeks of negotiations and my lab test, which should I had a rare blood type, the price went up to US $8,000," she said, noting that the sum equals 15 years of hard work.

"Today I feel healthy, my children have enough food and new clothes and I was able to get a job as seller in a clothes shop."

Ahmed has no regrets.

"I know it might look wrong but when a mother sees her children suffering from hunger, you realise that a kidney is nothing.

"I hope I will never have kidney problems but even if this happens I will be happy to know that at least I have saved the life of my loved ones and of a person who was in a dire need of an important organ that God blessed me with having two healthy ones."

Muhammad al-A’ani, an aid employee working with patients requesting organs transplantations, says some people are so desperate for the money they are willing to do anything.

"Recently we received a man who couldn’t donate his kidney because he had some renal problems," he noted.

"But he was asking of someone who would be interested in buying one of his corneas.

"I got surprised and tried to help him so that he would not fall prey to any gang in Iraq," said al-A’ani.

"I kept looking for information about him and two months ago I heard from a colleague that he did it for nearly US $20,000. We couldn’t find where or how but we will keep investigating it because it is too serious to leave behind."

He lamented that body transportations became like an industry controlled by a mafia.

"Unfortunately there are dozens of corrupted nurses, doctors and government employees who allow such disgusting situations to take place in exchange for money."

The Health Ministry says it is too complicated to find out who is donating for free and who is selling his body organs.

But in some cases donations, whether free or paid, are not done voluntarily.

Many children and youngsters have been reportedly kidnapped by gangs that sell their body parts for huge prices.

A 17-years-old victim, who requested anonymity, said he was drugged and abducted.

He woke up two days later in a dirty room with signs of a surgery. They gave him US $20 and drove him to the outskirts of Baghdad.

He later started to have health problems as a result of an infection he got during the procedure.

"It is unfair and I might die now because of the criminals who wanted to make money from selling my body," he cried.

"I don’t have a rich family and my father is now selling the house to raise money and find someone who is willing to sell his kidney and save my life.

"I was once a healthy person with two kidneys but now I’m a victim who wants to buy an organ that was stolen from me. Is not that ironic?"

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