Extreme poverty and debt force Afghans to sell their kidneys to feed their families

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Facing starvation amid Afghanistan’s protracted humanitarian crisis and resulting economic collapse, some people in the country are being forced to sell their kidneys to feed their families, AFP news agency reported.

Jobless, debt-ridden and struggling to feed his family, Nooruddin, one of many Afghans willing to sacrifice an organ to support their family, had no choice but to sell a kidney.

The practice has become so common in the western city of Herat that a nearby area is infamously referred to as a “one-kidney village”.

“I had to do it for the sake of my children,” Nooruddin told AFP in the town, near the border with Iran.

“I had no other option.”

Afghanistan is in the throes of a severe financial crisis after the Taliban took power six months ago, worsening an already vulnerable humanitarian situation after years of war.

The foreign aid that once supported the war-torn country has been slow to return, with radical Islamists also being cut off from Afghan assets held abroad.

The ripple effect has particularly worsened the situation for Afghans like Nooruddin, 32, who quit his factory job when his salary was cut to 3,000 Afghans (about $30) after the Taliban returned, believing wrongly that he would find something better.

But, with thousands out of work across the country, nothing else was available.

In desperation, he sold a kidney as a short-term solution.

“I regret it now,” he said.

“I can’t work anymore. I’m in pain and I can’t lift anything heavy.”

Her family now depends on their 12-year-old son for money, who shines shoes for 70 cents a day.

A kidney for $1,500 –

Noorudin was among eight people AFP spoke to who resorted to selling kidneys to feed their children or pay off debts, some for as little as $1,500.

It is illegal to sell or buy organs in most developed countries, where donors are usually related to the recipient or are people acting out of compassion.

Under Afghan law, the sale of organs or body parts is also illegal, however, the practice here is unregulated.

“There is no law (…) to control how organs can be donated or sold, but the donor’s consent is required,” said Professor Mohammad Wakil Matin, a prominent former surgeon at a hospital in the city of Mazar, in the north of the country. i-Sharif.

Mohamad Bassir Osmani, a doctor at one of the two hospitals where the majority of transplants in Herat take place, confirmed that “consent” was key.

“We take their written consent and video recording from them, especially the donor,” he said, adding that hundreds of surgeries had been performed in Herat over the past five years.

“We never investigated where the patient or donor came from, or how. That’s not our job.”

The Taliban did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment on the practice, but Osmani said the country’s new leaders were considering cracking down on the trade and forming a committee to regulate it.

Afghans in dire need of money are usually contacted by brokers with wealthy patients, who travel to Herat from all over the country – and sometimes even from neighboring countries like India and Pakistan.

The recipient pays both the hospital costs and the donor.

Azyta’s home had so little food that two of her three children were recently treated for malnutrition.

She felt she had no choice but to sell an organ and openly met a broker who put her in touch with a recipient from the southern province of Nimroz.

“I sold my kidney for 250,000 Afghans (about $2,500),” she said.

“I had to. My husband doesn’t work, we have debts,” she added.

Today, her husband, a day laborer, plans to do the same.

“People have become poorer,” he said. “A lot of people sell their kidneys out of desperation.”

Sayshanba Bazaar: the “one-kidney village” –

On the outskirts of Herat is Sayshanba Bazaar, a village that is home to hundreds of people displaced by years of war and conflict.

Dubbed “the Kidney Village”, dozens of locals sold their organs after word spread among disadvantaged families for money to be made.

From one family, five brothers have sold a kidney each for the past four years, thinking it would save them from poverty.

“We are still in debt and as poor as before,” said Ghulam Nebi, showing his scar.

In developed countries, donors and recipients generally continue to lead full and normal lives, but their health after surgery is often scrutinized – and also relies on a balanced lifestyle and diet.

This privilege is often not available to poor Afghans who sell a kidney and still find themselves poverty stricken – and sometimes in poor health.

Professor Matin said only some donors had organized follow-up checks.

“There are no public health facilities to register kidney vendors and donors for regular examinations to check the implications for their health,” he added.

Shakila, already a mother of two at 19, underwent the procedure shortly before the Taliban took over, bypassing a broker while searching for a patient at a hospital in Herat.

“We had no choice because of hunger,” she said.

She sold her kidney for $1,500, most of which was used to pay off the family’s debt.

Meanwhile, Aziza, a mother of three, waits for her opportunity after meeting a hospital staff member who is trying to connect her with a donor.

“My children roam the streets begging,” she told AFP, tears in her eyes.

“If I don’t sell my kidney, I will have to sell my one-year-old daughter.”

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2022, 10:37 a.m. IST

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