What drives the illegal organ trade in India? | In Focus podcast

Dr Sunil Shroff speaks to us about organ transplant laws in India, how loopholes can be plugged to curb organ commerce, the demand versus availability of organs in the country and the need to protect donor rights.

March 04, 2024 05:13 pm | Updated 09:10 pm IST

From time to time, stories of the commercial dealings in organs, or cash for kidney scams, surface in the media. In December, one such possible organ racket was in the news, involving people from Myanmar, who had come to a private hospital in Delhi for transplant procedures. Organ transplants have been taking place in India since the 1970s, and after multiple instances of the commercial sale of organs, India brought in the Transplantation of Human Organ and Tissues Act, 1994. This law banned the sale of organs and only allowed organs to be given between close family members, or for altruistic reasons, with no money exchanging hands.

Over the last decade or so, some cities in India have increasingly become major hubs for life-saving transplant surgeries of several organs including the kidneys, heart, liver, lungs and pancreas. The deceased donor programme, where organs are harvested from brain-dead donors, has also taken off in some parts of the country.

As of 2022, India performed just over 13,300 living transplants and about 2,700 deceased donor transplants. And still, the country has over 3 lakh patients on the waiting list for organs and 20 people dying each day for want of an organ.

How do the transplant laws work, and do they have loopholes that need to be plugged? What are the laws in place for foreigners? How can donor rights be protected more stringently to weed out exploitation? And can the transplant programme be scaled up to meet the country’s needs?

Guest: Dr Sunil Shroff, consultant urologist and transplant surgeon based in Chennai and past president of the Indian Society of Organ Transplantation

Host: Zubeda Hamid

Edited by Jude Francis Weston

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