LAHORE - The federal investigation agency last week smashed a kidney racket in Lahore; a sprawling city already described in the international media as ‘Pakistan’s kidney bazaar’. The government recently empowered the FIA to raid, arrest, and investigate the culprits involved in the illegal organ trade as the provincial departments failed to control the business.

According to medical experts, a large number of rich foreigners including people from middle-east and Canada visit Pakistan every year for kidney transplant. The incidents of kidney selling by the poor are on the rise. Patients from certain developed countries visit Lahore to buy organs for transplantation at illegal accommodations.

On Saturday, in a dramatic raid, the FIA arrested four men including two doctors who were transplanting kidneys to foreigners at a rented accommodation in Lahore’s posh EME colony. Two of the four suspects were identified as Professor Dr Fawad and Dr Altamash, said to be Secretary General of the Young Doctors Association.

Reportedly, the FIA team also recovered a kidney from the scene which was removed from the body of woman donor but doctors could not complete the transplant due to excessive bleeding. The agency had to arrange some doctors for one of the victims as the raid foiled the surgery attempt. According to FIA officials, the victims and donors were not taken into custody because they were trapped. The poor victims were promised Rs 150,000 for each kidney.

In Pakistan, rich people who can afford often try to purchase kidneys from the poor for kidney transplants, putting the lives of donors at high risk because of lack of post-surgery treatment. In Sri Lanka, there is a marked trend of organ donation following death, and over 5,000 eyes are donated to Pakistan from Sri Lanka every year.

The commercial buying and selling of organs threw Pakistan into the infamous kidney trade during the last couple of decades. As India worked to reduce the illegal trade within its borders more and more transplant tourists turned to Pakistan and by 2005 Pakistan became a popular destination for transplant tourism.

Experts believe no less than 1500 foreigners were coming annually to purchase kidneys and receive transplants in private hospitals in this country.

In May 2007, international media described Lahore as the “kidney bazaar” when a horrific kidney stealing scam surfaced in the Punjab capital. Lahore police had arrested nine people, four of them doctors, for abducting people, drugging them and stealing their kidneys for transplant operations.

But police said those arrested in Lahore tricked people then drugged them before removing their kidneys.

"These poor people were given tranquillisers and were deprived of their kidneys without their consent,” the then Lahore police chief Malik Mohammad Iqbal had stated. Police had raided a house in a Lahore suburb after a young man managed to escape from it and raised the alarm. Ten people were found detained in the house and four of them had already had a kidney removed, police said. The doctors, from two private hospitals, were arrested on suspicion of involvement.

In August, the Punjab Human Organs Transplantation Authority or PHOTA had allowed only 15 hospitals of Lahore and Rawalpindi to transplant kidneys. But authorities are yet to develop a mechanism in this regard.

During a high-level meeting presided over by Advisor to Chief Minister on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique it was decided that regular inspection of registered hospitals for transplantation of human organs will be conducted and it will be compulsory for these hospitals to intimate PHOTA 48 hours before such operations and the hospital will also prepare a calendar of operations for this purpose. Also Khawaja had claimed action would be taken against the donor as well as the recipient in case of illegal kidney transplantation.

Many criminals involved in illegal kidney trade are arrested in Pakistan every year but they are rarely prosecuted due to one or another reason.

In December 2015, Lahore police arrested a gang of six fake doctors involved in theft and sale of kidneys.

A police officer had told reporters that the suspects used to bring people for free treatment to a private hospital where their kidneys were removed. Then the kidneys were smuggled to different areas of the country. The arrested suspects were identified by police as Ramzan, Aamir Bashir, Sarfaraz, Shakeel, Dr Awais Gohar and Dr Kaleemullah.

In August 2015, a five-member ring of doctors and clinic staff who were operating an illegal organ transplant racket were arrested from Lahore’s Factory Area police. A case was registered with the police against Dr Sarfaraz, Dr Ramazan, Dr Amir, Miss Mona and laboratory assistant Sheraz.

Reportedly, the suspects were running an illegal organ transplant centre at Mai Nazeeran Darul Shafa, a private hospital, near Bank Stop. Police raided the hospital on a tip-off and arrested the suspects.

Experts, in 2013, had hoped that the newly passed law on transplantation will help control the illegal trade of organs and encourage donors to help patients who are truly needy. But the new laws and police crackdowns have failed to eliminate the illegal organ trade in the country.

According to the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, at least 50,000 people die each year due to end-stage organ failure in which 15,000 die due to kidney failure, 10,000 die of liver failure and around 6,500 die of heart failure. The Human Organ and Tissue Transplantation Law had been passed earlier by the National Assembly and subsequently signed by the president in 2010. When the 18th Amendment was implemented and the health sector was devolved to the provinces, the law became, however, nullified and it was left to the four provinces to ratify the law from their respective legislatures.

In order to stop this illegal practice, the government must ensure that organ donation of Pakistani citizens should not be permissible to citizens of other countries.

The Pakistan Medical & Dental Council should suspend the licences of these ‘butchers’.