News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

South African doctors charged with involvement in organ trade

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 22 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:190
  1. Pat Sidley
  1. Johannesburg

    The South African medical establishment has found itself at the heart of an international scandal involving the sale and transplantation of kidneys on three continents.

    The donors were mostly poor Brazilians willing to sell a kidney for up to $10 000 (£5400; €8000) each. The recipients were Israelis who paid up to 10 times that amount for a kidney.

    A senior nephrologist, Dr Jeff Kallmeyer, is on trial in Durban facing charges under the Human Tissues Act. South African law forbids the sale of organs for transplantation and requires the establishment of some relationship between donor and recipient for privately arranged transplantations. Accordingly, it is alleged that the Brazilian donors and Israeli recipients had to sign fraudulent documents stating they were related. Several other surgeons and medical staff have also been arrested and are facing trial.

    The main financial beneficiaries, however, seem to have been the intermediaries who organised the transplantations, matching donors and recipients and arranging the logistics in South Africa.

    South African investigators have frozen the assets of one of these men—an Israeli living in South Africa who is said to be key to the South African operation—while he is tried in Durban.

    Most of the transplantations, said to number in the hundreds, are alleged to have taken place in two hospitals owned by the Netcare group, with most done at St Augustine's Hospital in Durban. Reports from other countries indicate that donors and recipients may have come from other countries as well, with all operations taking place in South Africa.

    Netcare, which provides services on contract to the NHS in Britain, has consistently denied any wrongdoing throughout the investigation.

    According to US press reports, Israel has a shortage of donors, as religious Jews seldom donate organs, claiming that their religion forbids it.

    As the investigators arrested participants in the scheme, several of the poorer Brazilian donors found themselves not only without a kidney but without payment when they got back to Brazil.

    It is alleged that when the scheme was running, donors had their passports confiscated on arrival in South Africa, and were provided with a low standard of hotel accommodation.

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