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The tragedy of human organs trade


It is certainly a mark of depravity that has enveloped modern societies that theft and sale of human body parts or organs have become a thriving international trade. Arising from the increase in failed organs in many people, such organs as kidneys and the liver are the prime targets of the deranged traders who harvest them from unsuspecting persons for sale to those who need them. It has indeed become a tragic phenomenon to which every responsible government must call the attention of its citizens even as it cracks down on the perpetrators.

Happily, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health issued a warning to Nigerians traveling abroad for medical treatment to be ‘very careful due to the rising cases of such illegal harvesting by some hospitals.’ The advisory was as a result of the arraignment in Egypt of 41Egyptians, charged to court for illegally harvesting organs from unsuspecting victims.

With advancement in science and medicine, it has become possible for internal organs to be transplanted from donors. Legal arrangements are made with such persons who willingly donate kidneys especially to a relative or friend. In other circumstances, some dying patients donate their organs for the benefit of others. Often, such an organ is taken from one whose blood group matches the patient’s. As a result, family members are usually the first choice. When no close relation is available or willing, families then go scouting for friends who are willing. It is against this background that organ donations and transplant have become commonplace.


There are people out there who are even willing to sell one of their kidneys or other parts to make some money. This has become notoriously popular in the Asian countries, particularly among the poorest of the poor. It has, sadly, also taken roots in Nigeria.

For sums ranging from three to five million naira, some citizens travel to health tourist destinations to donate their organs. Although this commercialisation is illegal and unacceptable, it is, however, less frightening than the wicked and unethical practice of secretly harvesting organs from unknowing patients being treated for other health challenges.

This often happens when patients are admitted for minor surgeries and unscrupulous medical personnel seize the opportunity created by sedation or anesthesia to remove organs without the knowledge or consent of the patient. The discovery is often made later when other health complications begin to set in. This, to say the least, is most callous and inhuman. And the question is: how could human beings descend so low all for filthy lucre?

This unhealthy and criminal practice usually takes place in off-shore healthcare destinations. So, Nigerians who may have been victims may either not be aware or are simply too frightened to speak out. This, therefore, is an opportunity to reiterate the main point about the state of medical facilities in Nigeria: the government should make good health care delivery a priority. Time was when people came from other parts of Africa to get medical attention at the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan and Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi Araba. But along the line these excellent hospitals degenerated and have never recovered. Things have become so bad that government officials take pride in casually tell anyone who cares to listen that they do their medical checks abroad every year. The height of it was when President Muhammadu Buhari spent months in a London hospital for the treatment of an undisclosed ailment. There can be no greater demonstration of lack of faith in the nation’s healthcare delivery system than this.

This is the time to call on Nigerians who may have been so victimised anywhere in the world to speak up. When they do, the Ministry of Health should take up the gauntlet and make a case for exploited citizens. Above all, the nation’s hospitals should be revived. The private sector needs to be encouraged through deliberate policies. No doubt, Nigeria has competent doctors who have gone through training even in local teaching hospitals. Whenever such doctors go abroad, they perform feats that otherwise would not have been possible if they remained in Nigeria. The problem therefore is in the environment. There must be something here that kills initiative and personal development. It is this spirit of retardation that the nation must confront.


The teaching hospitals should be restored. Modern equipment should be purchased. Maintenance culture should be entrenched. Appointing the management team is also crucial. Often, the position of the Chief Executive is politicised. Round pegs should be appointed to round holes. Doctors themselves should wake up from their inertia and prove their worth. Many citizens have had nasty encounters with nurses and doctors in the nation’s teaching hospitals and they have come away with the feeling that most health workers there are careless, unfeeling, reckless and negligent. Also, inordinate quest for money has made many doctors forget their Hippocratic Oath. For example, although the teaching hospitals are public hospitals, in some of them, the management has taken commercialisation of human health to the extreme by creating private and public sections. Once a patient pays more, he or she gets express service in the ‘private section.’ The fate of those who have no such money and go with the public is anyone’s guess.

The harvesting of body parts or organs is condemnable. Nigerians must therefore be circumspect when they travel abroad to seek medical attention. Governments at all levels should focus on healthcare and Nigerians look forward to when at least a state in the country would develop health facilities that would attract patients from all over Nigeria and from abroad. This will reduce the number of citizens who are compelled to travel abroad to seek help. The states do not need the Federal Government to achieve this. The universities and their teaching hospitals should wake up from their slumber and justify the huge investments in them.

Finally, the Minister of Health as one-time leader of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) should go beyond lamenting or alerting citizens about health hazards abroad. He should use his wealth of experience to radically transform the health sector while serving a government that came to power on the ideological wings of change. He should remember the late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, minister of Health in the Ibrahim Babangida administration whose tenure radically changed primary healthcare in Nigeria for good. That is a great example to follow and even surpass as far as health care delivery is concerned.


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