One of the seamier aspects of medical tourism is on the wane, but sadly not yet killed. While countries are cracking down on legal commercial transplantation, an illegal trade has been taking its place in other developing nations.
China will investigate illegal organ transplant operations provided for 17 visiting Japanese and punish hospitals and medical workers involved. China prohibits transplants for foreigners, as it cannot keep up with demand for its own citizens. The country had just a little more than 10,000 donors for the more than one million people who need transplants every year. China performs the second-largest number of organ transplant operations in the world, behind the United States, with some 5,000 operations each year. The United States now has more than 100,000 on the national organ transplant waiting list, with an average wait of five years; the result of an aging and increasingly unhealthy population.
Deputy health minister Huang Jiefu said the 17 Japanese had come to China as tourists. “China resolutely opposes organ transplant tourism. China prohibits organ transplants for foreign visitors on tourist visas. Medical institutions and staff who carried out the organ transplants against the rules will be severely dealt with according to the law."
Last year, China penalised three hospitals for illegally selling human organs to foreigners.
In May 2007, China issued the Provisions on Human Organ Transplant. So far, the ministry has granted over 160 medical institutions the license to conduct such operation. It has deprived some hospitals of the license. The MOH has ordered domestic hospitals not to perform organ transplants for foreign tourists. Those who want to conduct such operations must acquire official approval from provincial health departments, and provincial health departments must report to the MOH before giving approval to the applications. Domestic hospitals must also prohibit their doctors from performing organ transplants while travelling overseas as a tourist.
For years, wealthy patients in need of replacement organs have turned to the shadowy, for-profit trade in human organs in the developing world, but the international medical community is having some success in pressuring foreign governments to crack down on the practice. Dr. Luc Noell for the World Health Organization in Geneva, reports that the commercial organ trade has thrived in countries like India, China, Pakistan and the Philippines as a result of increased demand from countries like the United States.
The richest countries are driving demand in the commercial trade in human organs, most commonly kidneys.The WHO passed a resolution in 2004 opposing for-profit organ trading. At the time, several countries were performing transplants for foreigners. In the Philippines, the practice of paying poor people to part with a kidney was widespread.
In China, a web site for BEK-Transplant, a transplantation clinic, offered a price menu in English and Arabic for foreigners shopping for a life-saving organ. For a non-Chinese patient, kidneys went for US$70,000. The website is now defunct as China and other countries have begun cracking down on transplant tourism. Last year, Pakistan made into law an ordinance banning commercial transplants and created a new authority to monitor the transplant process. It resulted in a 70 percent drop in transplants from a high of 2,000 a year to 600, the other 1,400 were foreigners.