Anthropologist Nancy Sheper-Hughes is well-known around the world for her research into the illegal trafficking of human organs. You probably know of cases of wealthy Americans who travel to India and China for medical procedures, as part of what is now referred to as medical tourism; update that knowledge to include organs that go looking for wealthy recipients in the United States.
Before I proceed I should note that in most countries of the world, the sale of organs is outrightly prohibited; and certainly in the ones that Professor Sheper-Hughes has visited on research. Despite that, if you are a Brazilian you could get 2,000 dollars for your kidney, but if that same organ belonged to an Israeli he might get 20,000 dollars for it. Even in organ selling, the inequality is stark.
Professor Nancy Sheper-Hughes, in an interview with a newspaper, describes a grim advertisement she heard from a 37 year old man: ‘ I will sell any organ of which I have two and which the removal of will not cause my immediate death’.
In the same interview she says: ”In the Philippines there are whole slums where people have specialised in selling their body parts; whole families will sell. You might start with the father, then his eldest son, then his younger son, then the wife, and before you know it the whole family have sold a kidney. What’s really tragic is that, now, having sold the kidney, they want to sell something else because that money that they get – in Manila it’s a couple of thousand tops – disappears quickly.”
There is a shortage of organs in the world, and it has been realised that kidney, for instance, from a living donor is likely to keep one alive twice as long as one from a cadaver. Powerful anti-rejection drugs have also meant that donors do not have to be members of the family of the recipients.
Add this mix to active brokerage, often involving criminal gangs on the one hand and impoverished Filipinos, Brazilians or citizens of other developing countries on the other, and you have an active international smuggling ring. And, oh, brokers normally make around 50,000 dollars as profit, per transplant, outside of the transport cost and other expenses.
But not everybody willingly agrees to the sale of their organ. Some Moldavians, for instance, are tricked into Turkey and then forced to sell their Kidney. “There’s a range of behaviour, ranging from seduction to real trafficking of people.”
Great thing that all these are not happening in Nigeria. Or is that so? My friend Benson Eluma and I discussed this sometime ago. Would it not be interesting to know more about the corpses left behind after what is popularly referred to as ritual killings in Nigeria? The only thing we get to hear in the media is that some body was discovered and that the sexual organs are missing. It is normally assumed that these organs are used for ‘making’ money. Apart from not being able to understand how a penis or a pair of breasts are able to ‘make’ money I am often astounded by the shallowness of such reports. There is never any details of the missing parts, and no one knows the cause of death. It is obvious, isn’t it? The person was killed by ritual murderers and the body parts have been used to ‘make’ money.
But if we paused for a few minutes to think about it maybe the idea that organs are harvested from those bodies is not that far-fetched. If you are involved in organ trafficking what would you do? You are aware of a myth in the country about certain body parts being used to ‘make’ money, what easier way to conceal what you actually do than to remove those body parts that are believed to be used in making money, thereby diverting attention from the organs that are harvested? Remember, not all organs need to be harvested from living persons, and all kinds of organs, including the eyes, Achilles tendon and other tissues, can be harvested. And maybe some of those overnight millionaires became rich overnight because they are part of an international organ trafficking ring.
This is an investigative journalism prize in waiting. A trip to morgues to find out the organs that are actually missing from corpses of victims of ritual killings and a look at the police reports on them might be a start.