Organ transplantation is widely practised worldwide. The expansion of organ transplantation has led to a critical shortage of organs and the development of the organ trade. Many patients travel to areas where organs are obtainable through commercial transactions. Although the international organ trade is regarded as an important health policy issue, its current state remains obscure because of scarce data and the lack of efforts to synthesize available data. This paper is an attempt to integrate information about the current international organ trade and create a tentative global picture based on a systematic review of 309 media reports, journal articles and other documents. The international organ trade is described in terms of its forms, the organ-exporting countries, the organ-importing countries and its outcomes and consequences.
Organ transplantation is an effective therapy for end-stage organ failure and is widely practised around the world. According to WHO, kidney transplants are carried out in 91 countries. Around 66 000 kidney transplants, 21 000 liver transplants and 6000 heart transplants were performed globally in 2005. The access of patients to organ transplantation, however, varies according to their national situations, and is partly determined by the cost of health care, the level of technical capacity and, most importantly, the availability of organs. The shortage of organs is virtually a universal problem. In some countries, the development of a deceased organ donation programme is hampered by sociocultural, legal and other factors. Even in developed countries, where rates of deceased organ donation tend to be higher than in other countries, organs from this source fail to meet the increasing demand. The use of live donors for kidney and liver transplantation is also practised, but the purchase and sale of transplant organs from live donors are prohibited in many countries.1 The shortage of an indigenous “supply” of organs has led to the development of the international organ trade, where potential recipients travel abroad to obtain organs through commercial transactions. The international organ trade has been recognized as a significant health policy issue in the international community. A World Health Assembly resolution adopted in 2004 (WHA57.18) urges Member States to “take measures to protect the poorest and vulnerable groups from ‘transplant tourism’ and the sale of tissues and organs”.2 Despite growing awareness of the issue, the reality of the international organ trade is not well understood due to a paucity of data and also a lack of effort to integrate the available information. This paper is a preliminary attempt to bring together the available information on the international organ trade. It aims to present a tentative global picture of the context and forms of the organ trade; the major organ-exporting and -importing countries; and the outcomes and consequences of commercial organ transplants.
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