The Sunday Vision newspaper of April 10 published a story of a young man from western Uganda who, in 2013, was lured into donating one of his kidneys to his ailing employer in return for hefty rewards in form of land, and other property.
The donation was successfully done in India but sadly for him, none of the promises previously made was fulfilled. And today, 8 years later, he reportedly lives in constant pain and spends about Ushs1.5 million per month on dialysis at Kiruddu Hospital. His only hope for justice now lies in the judicial system.
This young man’s story is more common than statistics suggest. Driven by similar lucrative offers, hundreds of desperate Ugandans are reluctantly consenting to giving away their body organs, especially kidneys, all in anticipation of better livelihoods for themselves and their families.
And there are also other harrowing tales of thousands of people tricked or drugged and their organs harvested without their knowledge. People are often coerced to give up their organs, in order to be illegally sold on the black market.
Kidney selling is no longer a strange or exotic act. It is now normal, entrenched and is regarded as an alternative source of income generation.
The commonest scenario is of vulnerable individuals who are easily convinced to participate in the trade. The pressures are subtle; the coercion hidden. This is mainly due to the high unemployment levels which is forcing many young Ugandans to give up their organs in exchange for ‘quick’ cash.
It is said that an organ buyer spends on average $150,000 for vital organs like kidney, liver or heart. For a kidney, a willing donor will usually get between $5,000 and $20,000 with the middlemen equally getting their share.
Of course, many Ugandans remain convinced that selling a kidney is a safe and easy way of raising cash. They argue that the medical procedure is an easy one and that somebody can always live a normal life with one kidney.
However, after surgery, many of these kidney donors suffer an alarming rate of post-operative complications and mortalities resulting from mismatched organs and are immobilized with pain, and unable to eat, urinate or defecate.
Also, kidney sellers are often the breadwinner of their families, but the impact of selling a kidney on their physical and mental health frequently disables them from future work. They suffer social stigma and tend to regret their decisions.
But this gets me thinking: how can we discourage our young people from participating in this inhumane trade when the youth unemployment in Uganda currently stands at over 70 percent? When the youth who are institutionally qualified are unable to find jobs and those that do, are employed in low productivity ventures?
Predictably, most kidney sellers are poor and unemployed. Many are peasants, mental patients or stranded refugees. Most willingly enter into these ‘transactions’ in which they agree to the terms, which are often verbal, but only realize later how they have been deceived, defrauded or cheated.
Some brokers use under-hand tactics. They offer opportunities of working abroad to unemployed youth, household heads in debt or in need of cash to support sick spouses or children.
Therefore, government should develop and implement ethically and clinically sound programs for organ donations. And this should be supported by similar programs aimed at curbing the extreme levels of poverty and unemployment in the country.
Mr. Mukalazi is the Country Director of
Every Child Ministries Uganda.