Nepal, a landlocked country in South Asia, shares borders with India to the south and China to the north. The majority of Nepalese, around 70%, depend on agriculture as their primary source of sustenance. However, Nepal is located in one of the world’s largest earthquake-prone areas, resulting in the destruction of countless homes and crop fields. Consequently, an increasing number of Nepalis are resorting to illegal kidney trade for sustenance.
According to a CNN report, Nepal witnesses up to 7,000 illegal kidney transplant cases each year. Many of the individuals involved in these transactions come from low-income backgrounds, driven by the need to repay debts or earn a livelihood. In the village of Hokse, commonly referred to as Nepal’s “Kidney Valley,” more than 300 residents have sold their kidneys for as little as $500 to $3,000.
Reasons Behind the Illegal Kidney Trade in Nepal
- Poverty: Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, faced numerous challenges in 2021. With a per capita GDP of only $1,208, the country heavily relies on donations from foreign countries to support its economic development. In fact, approximately one-third of Nepal’s population lives below the poverty line set by the World Bank at $2.15 a day. The average Nepalese worker earns less than $2 a day, driving many individuals to view selling their kidneys as a desperate means of survival.
- Medical resource scarcity: Compounding the issue is the scarcity of medical resources in Nepal. The country has one of the highest rates of kidney disease globally, affecting around 6% of adults with chronic kidney disease. The underfunding of Nepal’s health care system further exacerbates the overwhelming demand for kidney care. As a result, a thriving black market for organs has emerged, forcing many patients to turn to illegal kidney trade as their only option for treatment.
- Lack of basic medical knowledge: Furthermore, a lack of basic medical knowledge compounds the situation in Nepal. Organ brokers, who illicitly recruit individuals for organ sales, propagate the false notion that kidneys can regenerate and that the absence of one kidney will not impact overall health. These misleading statements manipulate and deceive uneducated Nepalis, leading them to consider selling their organs based on these unfounded claims
The Lifelong Harm
The kidneys play a vital role in filtering and detoxifying the body. The absence of one kidney can profoundly affect the body, as the remaining kidney must shoulder an increased workload. Consequently, individuals who sell their kidneys face the risk of life-threatening conditions such as renal failure. Furthermore, illegal kidney transplants lack the presence of qualified medical personnel and sterile equipment, resulting in potential infections, blood loss and other irreparable health complications.
The Indian government has introduced Bipanna Nagarik Kosh, a program aimed at providing financial aid to individuals suffering from serious illnesses, including cancer, kidney failure and other diseases. According to the Department of Health Services, the government has allocated over Rs2 billion for this initiative, with kidney diseases accounting for more than 52% of the expenditure. In January 2023, the Prime Minister of India announced plans to enhance the capacity of the National Human Organ Transplant Center (HOTC). Additionally, the Health Ministry has partnered with more than 50 NGO-operated hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis centers nationwide to offer free dialysis services and financial support for transplants and treatments for patients with kidney ailments.
Despite these efforts, Nepal’s National Human Rights Commissioner has raised concerns about the lack of attention from the Nepalese government and international humanitarian agencies regarding this issue. This negligence continues to expose numerous innocent Nepalis to the perils of the illegal kidney trade, making them vulnerable victims.
The illegal kidney trade in Nepal is an ongoing issue. However, there is a glimmer of hope as dedicated efforts seek to address this pressing issue. These initiatives, backed by substantial funding, demonstrate a commitment to improving the lives of those affected. The hope is to create a safe and prosperous society where the people of Nepal never have to consider trading organs for survival.
– Mingjun Hou