MANILA, Philippines – A Saudi Arabian man married a Filipino woman as a cover for buying her kidney, trying to circumvent the Philippines’ strict new rules to fight organ trafficking, officials said Monday.
The man’s transplant was blocked by authorities, but the case shows the difficulty the Philippines faces in fighting rampant trade in organs fueled by wealthy-but-ailing foreigners buying kidneys from impoverished Filipinos.
A human rights group says it has documented nearly 200 poor kidney donors recruited by organ-trafficking syndicates in a single province in the last few years.
Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said the Saudi man applied for a transplant at a government-run hospital, listing his wife as his voluntary donor. But hospital officials became suspicious when they learned the couple had married only recently and that the husband spoke no English or Tagalog, while the Filipino wife spoke no Arabic.
“Clearly, it was not a donation,” Cabral told a news conference Monday. “It was actually organ sale.”
The Saudi man’s transplant application was rejected two months ago, though neither he nor his wife faced any charges. Neither would say how much the woman was promised in exchange for her kidney, Cabral said.
Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor said the transplant would have been allowed had the marriage been authentic and if there was no commercial transaction involved.
The Philippines was named the No. 5 hotspot for organ trafficking by the World Health Organization in 2005. China was No. 1. The trade mostly involves kidneys, since most people can live with only one.
Amihan Abueva, regional coordinator of the private Asia Against Child Trafficking, said since last year her group has located at least 195 kidney donors from poor communities in Quezon province, southeast of Manila, who were recruited by syndicates. One of the donors was a 17-year-old male who received 95,000 pesos ($1,980).
At least two of the donors _ who were paid less than promised _ have filed cases against the organ traffickers, Abueva said. The law allows cases to be filed up 10 years after the crime was committed, and up to 20 years if it is large-scale trafficking, she added.
In 2007, out of 1,046 kidney transplants performed in the country, 81 percent were from living, non-related donors and 51 percent of the recipients were foreigners, said the doctors’ group Philippine Society of Nephrology. It wasn’t clear that all of those transplants involved an organ sale, but the statistics raised suspicions.
The government has been trying to curb the trade. It recently adopted strict rules restricting foreigners from receiving organ transplants from Filipino donors. The new rules added to a 2003 law that already prohibited organ sales, which are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
However, the rules make an exception for family members or anyone with emotional and social ties to the recipient _ and Cabral said the case of the Saudi man shows how far people will go to get around the law. AP