The Delhi police on 3 June arrested five people, including two members of the personal staff of doctors from the Indraprastha Apollo hospital, one of India's premier private hospitals, accused of being involved in a kidney racket, as reported by The Economic Times.
The kidney racket kingpin, Rajkumar Rao, was arrested in Kolkata on Tuesday, reported the NDTV. The 40-year-old man is suspected of having run similar rackets in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
The Delhi police also arrested three donors on Tuesday who claimed to have been lured to sell their kidneys for some Rs 3 lakh ($4,500).
"We have arrested three donors, including a woman. This takes the total number of people arrested to eight," New Delhi deputy commissioner MS Randhawa said on Tuesday. According to the latest reports, another person was arrested on Wednesday.
The Apollo hospital denied any role in the scam, saying it has been a "victim of a well-orchestrated operation to cheat patients and the hospital." According to a Business Line report, fake identification documents were used to dupe the hospital, passing off the victims as relatives of the recipients, which the Indian law permits.
Apollo hospital admitted to have unknowingly removed organs from victims and assured to help the police in the investigation of the racket.
According to NDTV, 10 doctors from the Apollo hospital's internal assessment committee for transplant surgeries, will be questioned.
Family members of two of the arrested have alleged that senior hospital staff may have been involved in the illegal organ trade, reported The Indian Express. The two doctors' assistants have also been accused of conjuring elaborate fake documentation and getting donors for the patients who were willing to pay.
"Such a racket cannot run without the knowledge of the higher authorities,” alleged father of one of the accused.
Here is an all you need to know about the practice of kidney donation in India and the issue of organ and tissue donation snowballing into profit-making rackets.
Organ donation, specifically kidney donation in black markets is fuelled by a chronic shortage of organs available for transplant. The practice of illegal kidney donation and procurement remains rampant particularly because of the high number of Indians suffering from diabetes and other kidney related diseases, according to AFP.
According to the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act, 2011, organs can either be retrieved from cadavers or from brain-dead patients with the family's consent, or may be donated by living donors. Now, living donors can be categorically divided into three types: Near relatives like parents, siblings or spouses; others who can donate for “affection and attachment” or for a special reason, but not for financial considerations; and swap donors where near relative donors are swapped between patients whose own family members are incompatible.
Th process of organ donation involves procurement of an extensive set of documents including an affidavit. The documents are then screened by a committee.
In November 2015, a national registry for organs and tissue donations — currently limited to hospitals in Delhi and NCR — was launched to make the process transparent. Patients are needed to register and then would be given an organ depending on availability regardless of their financial or social status, as reported by The Indian Express.
In December 2015, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare JP Nadda had highlighted the problem in Parliament. "There is a huge gap between the demand and supply of human organs for transplantation.... The government accords a very high priority for increasing donation of cadaver organs to bridge the gap between demand and supply and save the lives of a large number of persons suffering from end-stage organ failure," he had said, as reported by The Economic Times.
Medical experts believe that cadaver donations can make a difference. According to them, brain-dead patients need to be looked at as a source for the much required organs. Only the reluctance of family members of brain-dead patients to donate organs has hindered the process.
According to the data provided by the Indian Transplant Registry, a non-government effort supported by the Indian Society of Organ Transplantation, of the 21,395 kidney transplants that have happened in the country since 1971, only 783 came from cadaver donors, in the face of an annual requirement of kidneys that ranges between 1-2 lakh, reported The Indian Express.
This lag between demand and supply, exposes poor unassuming victims to exploitation by the racketeers. Kidneys donated for pittance by the poor are then transplanted into patients nationally and internationally for large sums.
The Apollo incident also raises concerns regarding involvement of reputed private healthcare institutions in such rackets.