Transplant tourism: Philippines still fighting organ trafficking


Although most organ transplant tourism has been illegal in The Philippines since 2008, the country is struggling to eradicate the problem. The Department of Health (DOH) has issued two administrative orders to fight organ trafficking, in particular the selling of kidneys to foreign patients. It has issued tighter revised rules on donating and transplanting organs from living persons through Administrative Order 2010-0018, which seeks to ensure that organ donations are “voluntary and truly altruistic.” The new administrative order reiterates the ban imposed on foreigners from receiving organs from living Filipino non-related donors, and categorically prohibits health professionals from engaging in the kidney trade. Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral says,”We issued the order because we wanted to make sure that nobody is exploited during the transplantation, and that organs are donated only for altruistic purposes. We want to make sure that illegal traffic of organs that has victimized many of our countrymen for many years will not be repeated. Hopefully the international medical community will recognize that our country is indeed serious in curtailing illegal organ donation."

The DOH orders confirm that kidney transplantation is not a legal part of medical tourism in the country. In 2005, The World Health Organization identified the Philippines as one of the global hotspots for organ trafficking, along with China, Pakistan, Egypt and Colombia.

In the last decade the Philippines gained an international reputation as a hub for the illegal traffic in human organs from living donors, with some hospitals catering for wealthy foreign patients requiring kidney transplants. Following criticisms that her administration was promoting transplant tourism, in 2008 president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered a total ban on all kidney transplant to foreigners. Prior to the 2008 ban, 800 foreigners each year had illegal kidney transplants. In 2008 the country also signed an international declaration on organ trafficking and transplant tourism, but it seems that a handful of doctors still participate in organ transplant tourism, which is more lucrative than ever after many countries successfully killed the business.

The new order sets up a system for the allocation, harvesting and transplantation of organs from deceased donors to Filipinos to provide people who need kidneys with the kidneys they need as 9000 Filipinos develop permanent kidney failure each year. Each region must set up a designated organ procurement organization, which will become part of the Philippine Network for Organ Sharing (PHILNOS). The existing voluntary donation system is not effective.

Jerry Chapman of The Transplantation Society (TTS), an international association of transplant experts, believes that these guidelines are important for organ transplantation in the Philippines and offers to assist in training and development to allow the rapid and effective implementation.



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