Kidneys: Make me an offer

15 September 2014 - 01:59 By Nivashni Nair
Image: Louise McAuliffe

"Help me feed my kids - buy my kidney."

This is one of a sudden stream of online adverts by desperate people willing to part with a kidney for cash.

Last week a woman updated her Facebook status to offer a kidney "but not for free".

The Hawks are aware of the growing number of such online adverts.

"We know this is happening but we don't know if any of these offers have materialised. We cannot act on an advert. Money has to be exchanged. We cannot say the statistics are alarming because this is an under-reported crime," Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko said.

The crime-fighting unit is aware that syndicates are recruiting South African donors.

"We are investigating at least three syndicates. At this stage I cannot reveal the countries the syndicates operate from," he said.

The National Health Act prohibits a donor from receiving remuneration or any other reward for a kidney donation, which is regarded as a "gift of life".

A donor who receives cash for a kidney faces jail or a fine.

But "Good Samaritan", as the woman advertising her kidney for sale calls herself, is willing to "take a chance".

Her advert states that she is a 30-year-old single mother of three.

She is willing to travel to her recipient but a "token of appreciation" must be paid because she is unemployed.

The Pretoria mother yesterday said her "reasonable fee" would be at least a R1-million from a foreign buyer but she was willing to accept R100000 from a South African.

"I am desperate. My family tries to help me but they also do not have enough money. I cannot find a job and I have nothing to sell except my kidney," she said.

She has had a few responses to her advert.

"I had a response from someone cursing me. He said I deserved the wrath of God for what I was doing. The others wanted to know more about me but it did not seem like they were really interested in buying my kidney."

She was desperate but not "stupid" enough to accept an offer from a syndicate.

"I don't even know if they exist and I don't want to get involved with that type of people. It is too dangerous," she said.

In The human organ trade - the South African tragedy, lawyer Sandile Khoza wrote in 2009 that South Africa was targeted for organ sales because the exchange rate between the rand and the US dollar gave recipients good value for their money.

He said South Africa had no shortage of well-qualified surgeons willing to perform transplants relatively cheaply.

"If people are going to sell one of their kidneys anyway, why should they not profit financially from it under a regulated system," Khoza asked.

He said an open and transparent system that was monitored to prevent deception and coercion would remove middlemen and ensure that the donor received a high standard of medical care.

"Clear guidelines must be set and followed for such a system to work. It should be a national system in line with the country's values, not simply enabling rich recipients from abroad to prey on the financially needy in Third World countries."

Academic consultant Bonnie Venter - who completed her master of law degree under Unisa's Professor Magda Slabbert, known for her research on organ donation in South Africa - said yesterday that she believed the illegal trade in kidneys was increasing in this country.

Citing research articles, Venter said the main reasons for this were the demand for kidneys exceeding the number donated legally, increasing poverty and unemployment, and kidney transplants being more cost-effective and offering a better quality of life to the recipient than renal dialysis.

Venter said one of the arguments against the sale of kidneys was that the poor would be exploited.

"By legalising the sale of kidneys, the poor will have a choice to change their financially disadvantaged situation."

Organ Donor Foundation executive director Samantha Volschenk said the foundation often received calls from people wanting to sell a kidney.

"We do not entertain those [offers] because the sale of kidneys is illegal."