Organ Transplant Racket: Organs Given To Foreigners Bypassing Indian Patients On The Waiting List In Chennai

15 Jun 2018 12:40 PM GMT
Organ Transplant Racket: Organs Given To Foreigners Bypassing Indian Patients On The Waiting List In Chennai
Representational Image:�Medical Tourism To India

In Chennai, an alleged organ transplant racket has surfaced. Director of National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation (NOTTO), Professor Vimal Bhandari indicated on a WhatsApp group that organs were given to foreign nationals bypassing the Indian patients on the waiting list.

On Tuesday, State Health Minister C. Vijaya Baskar informed the Tamil Nadu Assembly that heart transplants are given to foreigners only after going through the waiting list of all Indian patients.

He added, “Even the slightest accusation will be inquired. The Transplant Authority of Tamil Nadu is very transparent. We are working on ways to improve the transparency. Nearly five months ago, during a meeting, we decided to do away with the ‘supra-urgent’ category that is a red alert issued in case a patient is in need of a heart transplant in two to three days. We have ensured that all organ transplants are done as per seniority on the wait list.”

As reported by Scroll, in 2017, 25% of all heart transplants in the state, and 33% of lung transplants went to the international patients. Also, international patients underwent 31 heart transplants, 32 lung transplants, and 32 heart and lung transplants whereas doctors in Tamil Nadu conducted 75 lung transplants, 91 heart transplants, and 6 heart and lung transplants. However, there were 53 foreign nationals and 5,310 Indian patients on the waiting list as of June 9.

Alleged Organ Transplant Racket

Profesor Bhandari notified officials on an internal WhatsApp group which was set up to coordinate organ allocation. The WhatsApp group comprises officials of the Tamil Nadu Authority and representatives of all government and private hospitals, licensed for organ transplantation. NOTTO functions under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, and it is an all-India body for coordination, procurement, and distribution of organs/tissues and transplantation.

“It is difficult to digest that Indian hearts are not matching with our Indian patients but matching with foreigners. How’s it possible. It seems that Indian money is not matching with foreigners’ money. Really sorry to write that we are so greedy (that) we don’t bother to help poor Indian patients and (are) trying to manipulate (the waiting list) for foreigners,” said professor Bhandari on a WhatsApp group, reports The Hindu.

According to the rulebook, the procedure for organ allocation in India prioritises Indian patients, followed by non-resident Indians and international patients. It involves a waiting list based on criteria that include the date of registration and the recipient’s medical condition, reported The Scroll.

The rulebook also says that the allocation of organs to a patient on the waiting list is based on criteria that include the date of registration and the medical condition of the patient. The gender, race and wealth of the recipient will not be taken into consideration to prioritise his/her donation. The Transplantation of Human Organs Act of 1994 makes it illegal to buy or sell human organs in India.

The Director-General of Health Service convened a meeting in New Delhi where it was observed that the “the cost of a transplant, especially a heart transplant, in Chennai is so high that only foreigners can afford (it),” as reported by The Hindu.

It was decided in the meeting that strategies for maximising utilisation of organs by Indian recipients should be worked out by the State governments and post-transplant data on follow-ups and outcome of transplants for every recipient should be compiled.

The state health department has accepted the resignation of the Transplant Authority of Tamil Nadu member secretary Dr. P Balaji. Balaji, who has resigned after the alleged racket came up, citing “personal reasons.”

“We allowed the organ to go to international patients only after the private hospitals confirmed on the WhatsApp group that there were no Indian patients eligible for the transplantation. Though some hospitals initially proposed the hearts for Indian patients, they made a change at the last minute, saying that the Indian patient had developed fever or that there were logistical difficulties, and hence the organ would be given to a foreigner. We have to go by what the transplant surgeon of that hospital,” told Dr. Balaji to The Hindu.

He also added that there is no mechanism to ascertain the genuineness of the claim made by doctors that Indian patients suddenly developed fever or cold.

Other Allegations

Some other allegations are surfacing around the alleged organ racket. Reports say that organs were harvested without the consent of a brain-dead patient’s family. The family claims that the transplant was done to meet the needs of foreign nationals.

Previously, In May, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi K. Palaniswami seeking an investigation into an allegation raised by a family in Kerala that a private hospital in Salem had retrieved organs from an accident victim without consent.

An in-depth investigation headed by a Deputy Superintendent of Police is on to unravel the circumstances that led to the harvesting of organs from the victim and how they were allocated to the foreign patients.

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