One-Kidney Village: Selling Organs in Afghanistan

Selling Organs in Afghanistan“One-Kidney Village” got its nickname from the widespread practice of impoverished town members selling a kidney for additional income. The economic crisis has many Afghans desperate for immediate financial relief. The act of selling organs in Afghanistan for a few thousand dollars has become so common in the western city of Herat that it has earned a name that reflects that unfortunate reality.

Afghanistan will soon enter its second year under Taliban rule. When the Taliban took control of Kabul in August of 2021, the already war-stricken country’s economy only worsened. Once the Taliban assumed control over Afghanistan, international aid ceased. It has since partially resumed but economic desperation is still crippling many towns.

What is “One Kidney Village?”

One of these towns has been nicknamed the “One Kidney Village” due to the number of citizens that come under pressure to find any sort of financial relief. Desperate villagers see the opportunity to sell their organs for several thousand dollars as a chance to escape their financial burdens. The amount they receive in exchange for their organs is more money than many in “One Kidney Village” have earned at one time.

As of December 2021, the UNHCR estimated that 55% of Afghanistan’s population (around 23 million people) faces extreme hunger. The organization also estimated that, of the 23 million, 9 million face the risk of experiencing famine.

Kidney trade was already an issue in Afghanistan long before the Taliban took control, but since the takeover, it has become a far more common practice in all areas of Afghanistan, not just “One Kidney Village.” According to The Guardian, the price per kidney has lowered as the number of volunteers willing to sell their organs has spiked. The price once ranged from $3,000 to $4,000, but now (as of 2023) sells for as little as $1,500 or less.

Desperation for Financial Relief

After the removal of the kidney, it usually takes some time before the seller finds a recipient. Once they do, some individuals sell their kidneys for a smaller amount out of desperation for immediate financial relief and the number of people looking to sell. Since there is supply and demand for kidney selling, it has become somewhat of an industry in Afghanistan.

Afghans usually match with wealthy patients needing a kidney transplant. These patients travel from as far as India and Pakistan to Herat to undergo the procedure because of the access and availability of transplants in Afghanistan, Al Jazeera reports. The recipient of the kidney pays for the kidney as well as the medical bills for themselves and the seller. Al Jazeera’s interviews with Afghans that have sold their kidneys highlight an unfortunate reality that many Afghans do not realize when they agree to the procedure.

Consequences of Selling Organs in Afghanistan

The Borgen Project spoke with Sarah Lockwood, a doctoral student and undergraduate professor at Northeastern University working toward her Ph.D. in Criminology and Justice Policy. Lockwood has done research on organ trafficking in the U.S. and has a detailed understanding of push factors and consequences associated with organ trafficking in general.

Using her research, Lockwood reflects on the all too common outcome that can result from an individual selling their organ. “It decimates a lot of these people’s lives because [it] should have been a sure cash payout. They’re not even given what they were promised and then they don’t have any of the safety nets afterward to actually take care of their health,” said Lockwood.

In addition to rarely getting the total amount of money that buyers initially promise them, those who sell their kidneys often end up with a host of additional health issues and resulting medical bills. Post-procedural infections are the result of limited medical regulation and routine examinations to evaluate post-procedure health. Even though the practice is so common, Afghanistan does not have a law that controls how organs can be donated or sold as long as the donor has given consent. Proof of consent is provided in either written or video form.

No Laws and Regulations

Many Afghans who sell their kidney end up in equal or worse financial trouble than when they began. If they develop health issues after the removal, there is no law or regulation to ensure they receive adequate treatment, according to Al Jazeera.

“The thing we forget about with a transplant is like somebody who’s a donor doesn’t just get up and go about their life as they had before,” said Lockwood. “That is a life-altering surgery, you have literally one less organ in your body. If you are already barely making ends meet, anything medically that happens after that surgery, you’re already in a situation where you probably didn’t have access to doctors, to begin with, and don’t have any sort of health insurance or safety nets,” she also said.

Selling Organs in Afghanistan

Lockwood discussed that in developed countries donors undergo health screenings to ensure a donor is in sufficient enough health to recover from the procedure, making them aware of any potential risks. Recovery can prohibit the donor from working for some period of time, which could put their employment at risk. Transplant centers also get training to detect red flags that could potentially indicate force, fraud or coercion.
Lockwood defines organ trafficking as “an exchange of an organ for something of value with the expressed intent of it either being forced upon, coerced or exploited from somebody.” Force, fraud or coercion is the standard when it comes to defining all trafficking.

Working Toward Eliminating Organ Trafficking

Addressing organ trafficking is not simple. Finding alternative solutions for desperate Afghans could eliminate the coercive aspect of selling a kidney for financial compensation. Lockwood offers “building a situation in which an economy can thrive without exploitative labor or practices like that.”
“These are the poorest of the poor, the most stressed out, the most at risk. To be able to elevate them out of those situations, where $3,000 is not worth the loss of a kidney [and] you are able to make that through other means, which means you’re probably less likely to engage in those spaces” said Lockwood.

Maya Steele
Photo: Flickr