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Philippines Bans Kidney Transplants for Foreigners in Attempt to Stem Illegal Organ Trade

The Philippines is banning kidney transplants for foreigners because of a surge in the illegal trade organs taken from poor donors who sell their body parts out of financial desperation. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

The new rules will bar foreigners from getting donated kidneys, unless they can prove the donor is related to them by blood.

Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque, who announced the measure, says the sale of body parts should be condemned and must be stopped. He says kidney transplants to foreigners increased more than 60 percent between 2002 and 2006.

Although the sale of human organs is illegal in the Philippines, kidney transplants have become a profitable underground business.

Amihan Abueva, Manila regional director of Asia Acts Against Child Trafficking, says hospitals classify the kidneys as donations to circumvent the law.

Her organization surveyed 107 poor donors and found that they had an average monthly household income was only about $85, and they received an average of $2,600 for their kidneys.

"It's certainly a very bad situation because it just shows you that if you have more money, you can live longer. And poor people have very little [few] choices," said Abueva.

The kidney trade became so intense that one poor area in the Baseco section of Manila became known as Isla Walang Batto, or No-Kidney Island, because so many people there had sold organs.

People who sell or donate kidneys put their own health at risk - they can suffer complications from the surgery to remove the kidney.

Abueva says the minimum cost of a transplant is $75,000, with most of the money going to the surgeon. Last year about half of the 1,050 kidney transplants in the country were done on foreigners. Those familiar with the trade say people from Japan, South Korea, Europe and the Middle East are frequent customers.

Demand for transplants is massive. In the United States alone, the United Network for Organ Sharing says more than 75,000 people are awaiting kidney transplants. However, in 2007 only about 16,000 transplants were performed.

The World Health Organization says Pakistan, Egypt, China, Colombia and the Philippines are global leaders in the illegal sale of kidneys.