Kidneys being sold over Facebook, donors become brokers

Social media is being used as a marketing place for human kidneys. Buyers and sellers of kidneys are seen bargaining over the price on Facebook groups. Meanwhile, some of those who had sold kidneys earlier have given into temptation and have turned into brokers of kidneys now.

The kidney business has expanded as the government has no effective measures in place to halt this illegal trade. More than a decade ago, Joypurhat’s Kalai upazila made headlines for kidney sales. This business is still running in Kalai. There is evidence that it has expanded to neighbouring Panchbibi upazila as well.

It is the poorer and weaker people of the society that sell kidneys. Though people belonging to any social class might require kidney transplant, it is just the rich, powerful an influential people who availing them. There are brokers in the middle of the trading process. These brokers, protected by powerful people, are exploiting the poor and needy kidney donors different ways.

The demand for kidneys for transplant purposes has gone up with the increase in kidney diseases. This demand is not being met with the kidneys donated by close relatives, as per the country’s law. Experts in kidney disease say there is need for almost 5,000 kidney transplants in the country every year. However, not even 500 kidneys are transplanted annually in the hospitals across the country. Affluent people to abroad for the purpose

When someone fails to arrange kidneys for transplant in accordance to the law, they try to buy the kidneys. They contact the brokers. Otherwise, brokers keep an eye on various specialised kidney hospitals to find out which patients require kidneys. These brokers also know from whom kidneys can be bought. They make arrangements for kidney donors’ medical tests as well as manage passports and visas for them in case they have to go abroad for the transplant.

The brokers also know in which hospital the transplant will be take place abroad. Talking to kidney donors, kidney recipients, police officers, journalists, physicians, nurses, lawyers and hospital managers it has been found that people belonging to various professions are members of this kidney trading syndicate.

Digital kidney market

Like any other modern-day business, information technology or digital media is being used in the kidney trade as well. It is illegal to trade kidneys according to the country’s law. But, kidney trading platforms or market places have been set up on different social media including Facebook. There are also reports that the staff of several hospitals are making announcements on the Facebook about selling kidneys and advising people to contact them via Messenger.

During Prothom Alo’s investigation several dozens of kidney selling platforms were found on Facebook alone. There are hundreds of members in these groups, run under various names. Members are bargaining over the price of kidneys on the group page. Most of the donors are selling their kidneys due to financial crisis. However, the investigation also found that many are being cheated by the brokers.

Prothom Alo found about a young man who went to India to sell his kidney after he lost money borrowed from his family. He lost the money to the e-commerce company Evaly. He works in an electric wire manufacturing company in the capital for a meager salary. For safety reasons, his name and identity are not being revealed. On one hand, he incurred huge losses while trading goods on Evaly, on the other he had the pressure of paying the medical bills of his pregnant wife.

In July of 2021 he joined a Facebook group, where kidneys are traded. There he made a deal with two brokers to sell his kidney in exchange of Tk 1 million. Later, he met those two brokers several times at different places in capital’s Uttara and Mohammadpur areas. One of the brokers was named Zulfiqar Hasan. Mainly, he is the mediator working in the capital’s Banasree area. And his associate Irfan Uddin lives in Uttara.

With the help of those two brokers the young man went through medical tests at an expensive hospital located in an elite area of the capital. Later, some other tests were done at the kidney department of a hospital in the capital’s Mogbazar area. Following five months of their acquaintance, the man went to India with Zulfiqar on 9 December of last year. Before going, the man had lied to his wife and relatives that he was going to Delhi on a business trip.

He was kept at a hotel named Sharda Residence in Sector 7 of Delhi. He was medically examined seven to eight times at Venkateshwar hospital in Dwarka area of Delhi. The man received good treatment from the brokers up until the medical checkups. At one point, his passport and national identity card were taken away from him.

In the first week of March this year, the man’s kidney was extracted. Visiting the hospital’s website it was seen that they are giving special offers on kidney transplant only for Bangladeshi patients.

The man doesn’t know who received his kidney. After staying in the hospital for three days, he was sent back home with his passport and Tk 200,000. When asked for the remaining Tk 800,000 he was intimidated and threatened.

He said, while staying in the hotel and hospital he met and talked to quite a few Bangladeshis there. They had gone there from Gaibandha, Bogura and Kurigram districts. At least eight of them were there to sell their kidneys.

After returning home, the man quickly changed his mobile phone number and house out of fear. He kept the news of selling his kidney a secret to his family.

Mentioning that the brokers are part of a very powerful network, he told to Prothom Alo, “My debts remained unpaid and I lost my kidney too. On top of that, I am under surveillance of the brokers. I couldn't decide what to do, so I came to you.”

Prothom Alo found out where Zulfiqar, the main mediator behind selling that man’s kidney, lived. He lived in a residential area of Basabo. Owner of the house said that Zulfiqar left that house and moved to Rampura last year.

When contacted Zulfiqar on his mobile phone on Wednesday night he said, he was in Delhi. He has a company named Global Health Network. When an elderly person asked him about solutions to kidney-related problems he replied it would cost Tk 2.7 to 2.9 million.

Towards the beginning of their acquaintance, the group of brokers took the man who lost his kidney to a physician at a hospital in capital’s Moghbazar. The physicians and nurses in that hospital had assured him that there will be no harm in donating a kidney.

Visiting the hospital, two correspondents of Prothom Alo discussed about buying a kidney with two of the employees there. Those employees provided them with a telephone number and advised them to contact that.

It is learned that information on kidney trade can be availed in several hospitals of Dhaka city. Visiting one such hospital, advertisements of kidney trade were seen pasted on the walls of the hospital toilet. There were several mobile phone numbers on them which are the numbers of the brokers. It was also learnt that the hospital authorities are aware of it.

Several police officers and kidney disease specialists say kidney buyers or patients, sellers and mediators are working together on trading kidneys at certain hotels and hospitals in several major Indian cities, including Kolkata and Delhi. Basically, they are getting acquainted on Facebook.

For becoming a member of these Facebook groups like ‘Kidney Donate for Bangladesh’, ‘Kidney Live Transplant Service’, ‘BD Kidney Patient Bangladesh’, ‘Blood Donor-Kidney Donor Patient Guide’, ‘Kidney Transplant and Donor Communication Indian Hospital’, ‘Kidney Network’, ‘Kidney Bangladesh’, ‘Kidney Patient Bangladesh’, ‘Solution for Kidney Problem’ and ‘Looking for a Kidney Donor’ one has to apply to the admins providing their national identity card and phone number. Most of the organisers of these groups are actually kidney brokers.

From donors to brokers

Four members from the same family, the father, two of his sons and a daughter-in-law from Bherendi village under Kalai Upazila of Joypurhat had sold their kidneys in between 2009 to 2011.

Detective Branch (DB) of Police in Joypurhat arrested six people including one of those two sons on 13 May. Police said, there are allegations against them of being involved in kidney trade. Masum Ahmed Bhuiyan, Joypurhat superintendent of police said to Prothom Alo, one of the members of that family had sold kidney in 2009. Now that person lures local people to sell their kidneys. He has now turned into a broker or intermediary.

In response to the question of how many people have already sold kidneys in the area, how many people who have sold kidneys before are now working as brokers, the police super said to Prothom Alo that the exact number of how many people have sold kidneys has not been gathered yet.

However, police have learned about some people who once sold their kidneys and are now brokering them. Police have specific information of eight or nine people but the actual number could be higher, he added.

One of the six people arrested on 13 May is a resident of Jaipurbahuti village. He sold his kidney in 2006 while another man from the same village sold his in 2009 and one other man from Durgapur village sold his in 2016. The police super said, all of them are now involved in kidney business.

The father of one of those three men talked to Prothom Alo on 30 May. He said that his son had sold his kidney about five to six years ago. He lives in Dhaka’s Ashulia area now.

He went home during the last Eid-ul-Fitr. He said that he does not know what his son does in Dhaka clearly. He has heard that his son works as a rickshaw puller. But the police say otherwise. Members of the detective branch of police arrested his son from Ashulia, on 30 May.

The next day on May 31, Masum Ahmed Bhuyan, superintendent of police in Joypurhat said in a press conference organised at his office that the arrestee was involved in the kidney trade.

In the press conference, the police super had also said that there was intelligence information that some people from several villages of Kalai upazila have not been in the area for quite some time.

According to their family they live in Dhaka, but the family members couldn’t say anything about what they did exactly in Dhaka. While collecting specific information on one or two people, it was found that they are involved in the kidney trading.

Manish Chowdhury, president of Kalai Upazila Muktijoddha Sangsad informed Prothom Alo, “Those who have sold kidneys before, know the tricks and loopholes. Many of them are misleading local people in the area. They say there’s no harm in donating one kidney and they are still healthy after donating their kidneys.”

The freedom fighter also said that after 2012-13, the news of people of the area selling their kidneys started decreasing. However, it saw a sudden increase in the last one year.

On last 30 and 31 May, two reporters of Prothom Alo visited Bherendi, Jaipurbahuti, Ulipur, Bairagirbazar villages in Kalai upazila and talked to people of different ages.

A teenager said, everyone knows the people in the area who have sold their kidneys, while walking along the road one is sure to see one or two people who have donated kidneys. A local businessman said that neighbours also know who are the people that are coming from Dhaka and persuading people to sell their kidneys.

Several people from Kalai Upazila Sadar said that people of other professions are also brokering the sale of kidneys on opportunities.

A police officer working at a police station in Joypurhat has undergone a kidney transplant. A businessman from Kalai upazila helped the police officer in contacting the 'kidney donor'.

In this regard, the police super Masum Ahmed Bhuiyan said Prothom Alo that the fact, whether any businessmen or other professionals are also involved in the kidney trade is being investigated too.

Two people were saved

A poor resident of Takahut Jagannathpur village was about to go to India to sell his kidney. He was saved by the police. The man talked to Prothom Alo at Kalai Upazila Muktijoddha Sangsad office on 30 May.

A well-off man from the same village used to visit his salon regularly for haircuts. Apart from the haircut charge, the man used to give him Tk 200 to 500 in tips. The poor man also used to borrow money from him.

At one point, his debt went past Tk 5,000.Then that man said that there is no harm in selling a kidney. The money he will get by selling his kidney will be enough to pay the debt while he would have extra money left as well.

The victim informed Prothom Alo that he was taken to Dhaka at first. It was arranged for him to stay in Ashulia. He went through blood tests at a Kalabagan clinic. After that he was sent back to Kalai with Tk 2,000. The well-off man had said that he and his wife need to make passports for going to abroad. He was also given extra money for making the passports.

That poor couple had submitted their documents at Joypurhat passport office. Police grew suspicious, when they came to verify their information. While searching for answers to questions like, why did they want to make passports and why were they going to India, the truth came out.

During interrogation police came to know that the man wanted to go abroad with a passport to sell his kidney. Based on information from him, the detective branch of police learnt that along with that well-off man, two other persons from Takahut village are brokers of the kidney trading ring.

That poor person was saved from going to India. However, another man from Gorna village of Panchbibi Upazila did go to India. That man said to Prothom Alo, he had made a deal of selling one kidney for Tk 400,000.

Preparing passports, collecting visa, travelling to India, fixing the price of the kidney, all of these were handled by two men. In 2021, he had gone to Bangalore in India. He said, “I got scared at one point and informed the local police. I returned home with the help of Indian police.”

From Kalai to Panchbibi

Kalai has been in the headlines repeatedly because of the kidney trade. Many have formed an idea in their mind that kidneys can easily be availed in the villages of Kalai upazila. There has been no research on how many people from this small area have donated their kidneys so far.

The first report on kidney trade of Kalai appeared in Prothom Alo on 30 August 2011. Then follow up reports kept appearing with a gap of several days. The Prothom Alo report at the time said that around 200 people from different villages of Kalai upazila have sold one of their kidneys.

Manish Chowdhury, president of Kalai Upazila Muktijoddha Sangsad, said, "When I say I’m from Kalai, one may instantly think that I don’t have one of my kidneys and I have sold it. Not just me, many people are ashamed of introducing Kalai as their home.”

But why are the people of Kalai selling their kidneys? Is it just because of poverty that people have chosen this path? There are similar poverty situations in many other parts of the country. Why isn’t it happening there? Nobody knows the answer to these questions.

However, a resident of the neighbouring Panchbibi upazila has returned from India without donating his kidney. Does this mean the network of kidney trade has become more widespread?

About the kidney selling market growing larger, Masum Ahmed Bhuiyan, police super of Joypurhat said to Prothom Alo, “There is intelligence information that along with Kalai police station area, poor and helpless people are being lured to sell their kidneys in Panchbibi thana too. We learnt about only one incident, there might be more such cases.”

Three tier circle

Joypurhat police administration believes the kidney trading circle to be three-tired. There are some local greedy people in the first tier. They target the poor people from the area. They lure the poor by tempting them with hefty amounts of money.

They trap them in various ways, especially by loaning money. At one point, they compel them to agree to sell their kidney. The persuaded ones are taken to Dhaka first. Going to Dhaka implies entering the second tier of the circle.

Members on the second tier make the accommodation and food arrangements in Dhaka city for the people coming from villages. They also make arrangements of different medical tests for them, prepare their passports-visas and arrange for their travel abroad.

Police have said that some hospitals in Dhaka and their staff are involved on this tier. However for the sake of investigation, police do not want to disclose the names of these hospitals and persons.

Then the villagers enter the third tier. From Dhaka, they travel to India, Dubai or Singapore. The task of keeping them at hotels and taking them to hospitals is done by the third-tier members.

Police has informed Prothom Alo that Md A Sattar from Bahuti village of Kalai upazila is now doing this work in India. This Sattar is the accused in the first ever case lodged in connection to kidney trade. That case was filed with Kalai police station in 2011.

Donors remain unseen to recipients

When someone donates their kidney to save the life of a loved one, the donor knows to whom he is donating the kidney. The recipient also knows who is saving his life. But when kidneys are sold, this information is no longer required.

A resident of Ulipur village didn’t see the person to whom he gave his kidney. He used to be a van rickshaw puller in the village. A local man advised him to sell his kidney. Going to Delhi, he donated his kidney to a teenager from Thakurgaon in 2019. He had earned Tk 360,000 from selling one kidney.

In response to the question to whom did he donate the kidney, he said, “I didn’t see him. The boy is from Thakurgaon district. We talked over the phone.”

Collecting his mobile phone number from the van puller, the boy was contacted. He said, he is in good health. He travels to India every year for health check-ups. In response to the question of how he was introduced to the van puller, the teenager said, “I don't know. My brother-in-law, who lives abroad, knows.”

They are unwell

There are two kidneys in a human body. Both kidneys are essential for the body. People can survive with a single kidney as well but, it can causes problems. The absence of one kidney can lead to various health risks.

Professor Muhammad Rafiqul Alam, former chairman at the nephrology department of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told Prothom Alo, “Kidney donors need regular health check-ups. Whether there is any issue with the wound after the kidney transplantation or whether the pressure on the remaining kidney is increasing after donating the other, all this needs constant follow-up treatment.”

Usually the follow-up treatment of the donor and recipient is done at the same institute or under the same physician who did the kidney transplant. It is impossible for the people of Kalai who had gone to India to donate their kidneys, to go there again.

Many people secretly donated their kidney and they want to keep it that way even if there’s any problem. Many don’t even know where to go for treatment while many others do not have the financial capability. Therefore, a part of the kidney donors are remaining out of the coverage of treatment.

A resident of Borai village under Kalai upazila had sold his kidney in 2010. He said, he suffers from back pain and takes painkillers on a regular basis.

Another resident of Bherendi village in Kalai sold a kidney, going to Dhaka about 11 years ago. He said, he has to take medicines regularly. At least five other kidney donors said they could not do heavy work.

On 11 June, that same young man who works at an electric wire factory and had gone to Delhi to sell his kidney after meeting brokers through Facebook told Prothom Alo, he gets tired within a very short time while working. He has been going through endless mental turmoil. No matter what, he is unable to keep the thought of missing a body part out of his mind.

*This report appeared in the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha.