The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released figures which shed light on the alarming rise in the number of black-market kidney transplantations taking place around the world, with estimates putting the number as high as one every hour.
The trade in kidneys is being fuelled by a global increase in the incidence of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension coupled to a worldwide shortage of legally donated organs.
The expose was published by the Guardian newspaper following collaboration with the WHO.
It is thought that the organs are being provided by organised gangs who acquire them from vulnerable people and offering them for sale on the black market for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Many of the black-market procedures are performed in India, China and Pakistan.
Luc Noel is a WHO official who monitors the black-market trade in organs.
"The illegal trade worldwide was falling back in about 2006-07: there was a decrease in 'transplant tourism' but the trade may well be increasing again. There have been recent signs that that may well be the case," he told the Guardian.
WHO figures released show that around 100,000 organs were legally and illegally transplanted around the WHO's 95 member countries in 2010. The WHO estimate that as many as 10% of those could have been harvested illegally, amounting to some 10,000 illegal operations each year.
Patients with End-Stage Renal Disease are often faced with a difficult future on dialysis treatment. In countries where this is readily available, dialysis still requires hours spent on a machine each week. The only alternative is to find a suitable matched donor graft.
The trade in illegal organs is certainly nothing new, although the scale of the problem will alarm many. In 2008 the Associated Press reported on an organised crime unit based in India which was thought to be responsible for some 500 illegal transplants. The group often forcibly took kidneys from donors against their will, sometimes at gun point.
A spokeswoman for the Indian National Human Rights Commission said at the time: "India is not such a literate population. That's the main thing. There are a lot of people who are easy to take advantage of."
Illegal organ trade on the rise, say world health experts (The Telegraph)