The average wait time in the United States for a kidney transplant is three to five years and in Germany, it can take up to six years. Both Germany and the US have ethically run oversight groups that control the organ transplant system. In the US, the United Network for Organ Sharing is a non-profit oversight group that monitors the fairness of the organ transplants and donation system. Unlike the US and Germany, the majority of countries do not have ethically monitored transplant practices in place, leaving the organ search to fall into the hands of illicit criminal networks who procure an organ at a high price for the donee and an even higher one for the donor. In every country the demand for organs is much greater than the supply creating lengthy wait times for patients. In 2010 the World Health Organization stated that 10,000 kidneys were sold on the black market, meaning one kidney was sold per hour for the entire year.The combined lengthy waiting time with unregulated organ transplants has created a lucrative market in illicit organ trafficking especially in Egypt, Kosovo and China.
The Sinai Peninsula
Nestled between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, the Sinai Peninsula has long been home to African refugees but due to the increased violence in Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula has become largely unpoliced and lawless leaving refugees vulnerable to organ traffickers. Israel recently constructed a fence across the Egypt / Israel border to keep African refugees out which has caused Bedouin traffickers to lose money and look for other lucrative markets. Eritreans make up 95 percent of refugees living on the Sinai Peninsula and recent reports coming from the region indicate that traffickers have been kidnapping Eritreans and demanding large ransoms from their families. Hostages who are unable to pay the ransom have their corneas, livers or kidneys removed by corrupt doctors to sell to the highest bidder.
Earlier this year a trial took place for what is thought to be the first time in history that a medical doctor has been accused of harvesting organs for an international criminal network in Kosovo. Impoverished donors had been lured to Kosovo from the old eastern bloc countries and were paid as little as $10,000 for their kidneys which were then sold to wealthy recipients in Israel for as much as $130,000. As many as 30 people were duped into selling their kidneys-many were never paid and all were abandoned in Kosovo where they didn’t speak the language and were in need of proper medical attention. Organ trafficking is a growing industry possibly due to an enormous 40-45 percent unemployment rate in Kosovo, leaving the citizens with very little options for survival.
In the human rights community, it has long been known that China harvests the organs of its death row prisoners. In recent months, China has declared that it will stop using the organs of involuntary death row inmates later this year. There are concerns that this declaration could increase organ trafficking since the organs of death row inmates have traditionally made up 65 percent of all organs used for transplants in China. With over 1.5 million Chinese needing organs, the black market for organs is ripe for the desperate and willing to donate kidneys for money. The black market has become a lucrative option for those willing to sell a kidney and stories of teenagers selling their kidneys for expensive electronics keep appearing on the Internet. Unfortunately, so do stories of children being drugged and left for dead as thieves steal their corneas. China remains one of the top destination for transplant tourism, where wealthy organ recipients pay top dollar for the required organ with no questions asked about the organ’s origins. There are currently 600 transplant centers operating in China.