By Teoh El Sen
SUBANG JAYA: Malaysians who go to China for organ transplant risk contracting serious diseases, says a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert.
Dr Francis Delmonico, a WHO adviser, said some Malaysians who had gone abroad for organ transplants had returned home with diseases like TB, hepatitis and HIV.
According to a report by the Malaysian Dialysis and Transplant Registry, some 60% of Malaysians have gone overseas for transplants in the past nine years (2000-2009), with 856 seeking treatment in China alone.
Speaking at a forum on "Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism -- the need for regulatory and legislative control" held here last Friday, Delmonico advised Malaysians not go to China.
"We do not know where they get the organs. But in most cases, the organs are taken from executed prisoners. And we know that when patients go there and ask for a donor, the authorities would just say, 'we need a B-blood type execution' and it's done and some middlemen get the money," said Delmonico, who is also the director of medical afffairs and president-elect of the Transplantation Society.
"People need to know that those who went abroad for organ transplants have become ill on returning home. Besides, nobody is keeping tabs on how these transplants are done after the money has been paid. This is a fact. They (medical authorities) don't care and there are no guarantees," he added.
He said the commercialisation of organs – buying and selling of organs – is known to occur in countries such as China, Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Egypt.
“This is unethical and should not be sanctioned,” he added.
Delmonico also urged the Malaysian government to draw up new laws to combat organ trafficking and at the same time boost the efficiency of the local transplant agency.
Condemning reports of kidnappings and other forms of coercion to harvest human organs, he said that it was often the rich who would travel abroad to purchase organs from the poor.
“This is also a form of exploitation,” he said.
Be tough on middlemen
Malaysian Society of Transplantation president Dr Harjit Singh agreed, saying: "We must be aware that this (kidnappings) is happening."
"We need laws in place to safeguard the interest of our citizens and to prevent organ trafficking from reaching our shores,” Harjit said.
He added that organ transplants in Malaysia are governed by the Human Tissues Act 1974, which needs to be amended or replaced with a new Act.
Former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan, who was also present, said Malaysia needs to be "tough on the middlemen" by enacting news laws or amending existing ones such as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007.
She said the country should have comprehensive programmes to address poverty so that Malaysia would not become a target for the organ black market.
Ministry of Health official Dr Azmie Shapie said the ministry is trying to strengthen its capacity to provide transplants but the main challenge is getting more organs.
"If we do not address this, then other issues will crop up. Our people who go to other countries for tranplants could contract hepatitis B, HIV, and so one. We cannot condone it," said Azmie.
National Transplant Resource Centre chief national transplant coordinator Dr Lela Yasmin Mansor told FMT that organ trafficking is now decreasing as countries are becoming more aware of the problem.
"In line with the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism we adopted last year, we must have laws to prosecute those who traffick.
“Right now, the Ministry of Health has a set of policies against the buying and selling of organs but there is no provision to penalise those who do it."
Lela added that in addition to more public willingness to donate, the transplant agency also needs funding for more doctors, nurses and logistics.
About 60,000 transplants are taking place worldwide each year, and one in 10 are done illegally. In Malaysia, some 10,000 patients are waiting in line for organs such as kidneys, livers, hearts and lungs.