The dark side of Kidney trade

Illegal transplantations continue to thrive in some corporate hospitals

Some time in April this year, T. Pardhasaradhi, a native of Kurnool and a resident of Kukatpally in Hyderabad, approached the MR Peta Police Station in Visakhapatnam seeking to lodge a complaint stating that he was allegedly duped by a middleman and a corporate hospital in the city for reneging on a payment deal struck with him in exchange for one of his kidneys which he had sold to the hospital.

The dumbstruck police swung into action and arrested M. Manjunath (34), an ayurvedic doctor from Bengaluru who was the alleged middleman, and Dr. D. Prabhakar (35), a nephrologist of Sraddha Hospital, where the surgery was allegedly performed.

The complaint from Pardhasaradhi opened a can of worms as police stumbled upon a series of kidney transplants done in brazen violation of guidelines, with the particular hospital being at the centre of it.

The investigation revealed that Manjunath struck a deal with Pardhasaradhi, agreeing to pay ₹12 lakh for one of his kidneys. However, after the operation was conducted, he was only paid ₹5 lakh. The doctor and the middleman reportedly collected ₹23 lakh from the family of the kidney recipient, and shared the money between themselves.

This is the second time in four years that the dark underbelly of corporate hospitals has reared its head, indicating how an illegal kidney transplantation racket continues to thrive on the back of a shady nexus between doctors and middlemen. The last time was in 2015, when another major corporate hospital in the city had come under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate for its alleged involvement in illegal kidney transplantations.

Hospital’s time up

As the case grabbed widespread attention in the media, District Collector K. Bhaskar initiated a three-member committee comprising District Medical and Health Officer S. Tirupathi Rao, District Coordinator for Hospital Services (DCHS) B.K. Nayak and KGH Superintendent Dr. L. Arjuna to investigate the case.

The committee, after a detailed inquiry, submitted a report stating that there were gross violations pertaining to the case of Pardhasaradhi. So far, the hospital has done about 68 kidney transplantations, of which a whopping 29 were done in contravention of norms.

"In all the 29 cases, there were violations ranging from minor to major and we have ordered the closure of the hospital under relevant sections of the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1995," said Mr. Bhaskar.

The notice has been served on the hospital and will be closed once the patients who are undergoing treatment are discharged, said the District Collector.

Tip of the iceberg

While Sraddha Hospital had come into focus because of the case being exposed, sources in the police said that many other hospitals have been indulging in illegal organ transplantations, especially kidney transplants.

Based on feedback that a number of corporate hospitals in the city are involved in this illegal business, the District Collector has asked the three-member committee to inquire into all the transplantations that have been done in the city in the last five years. To begin with, 10 corporate hospitals have been identified by the panel where the cases would be examined first.

City Police Commissioner Mahesh Chandra Laddha has also formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate into the allegations against Sraddha Hospital.

Bigger market

Kidney transplantations began in India in the 1970s, and were then limited only to the big cities. However, once it moved to the Tier-II cities, based on increasing reports of irregularities, the Government of India passed the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THO) in 1994.

As per the Act, organs cannot be sold and can be donated only by the relatives of the patient, said the Vice-Chancellor of Dr. NTR University of Health Sciences Dr. C.V. Rao.

In A.P., there are three such Authorisation Committees in Visakhapatnam, Guntur and Kurnool, and each committee is headed by the superintendent of the biggest Government General Hospital. In Visakhapatnam, it is the Superintendent of KGH.

According to Mr. Bhaskar, in all the 29 cases of Sraddha Hospital, the approval of the authorisation committee was itself bypassed, which is a major violation.

Sources in the police say that in many cases, the documents, including the Aadhaar cards, are forged to prove that the donor is a relative of the patient.

"In Pardhasaradhi’s case too, the documents were forged," said Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP-City Task Force) Mahendra Mathe.

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