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Despite Efforts, India Remains An Easy Market For Illegal Organ Trade

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India can be rightly proud of its status as one of the world’s fastest growing economies but there’s an infamous label that refuses to go away. Despite the country’s best efforts to destroy the black market for illegal organ trade, India retains its reputation as an easy place to buy organs such as kidneys and livers.

Earlier this year, I saw a Bollywood flick titled “Rocky Handsome” starring the burly John Abraham. The film struggled to attract audiences but threw light on the ever-so grave and serious issue of illegal organ trade. The film saw an organised organ mafia active in the Indian state of Goa. The liver was being sold to one district, the heart to another.

There are quite a lot of reasons for this. First of all, the very concept of organ donation is new in India. Furthermore, the western notion of removing organs from people who have already been declared brain-dead is even more unfamiliar. With around 60% of its population still living in villages, the practice of organ donation remains unknown.

The next problem is that not all doctors know how to identify people who can donate their organs. Also, you need to have fairly good connectivity. Imagine that the donor is living in some remote part of Chhattisgarh, now to bring him to Delhi and to take out that organ would be a huge challenge.

A lot of people also believe that organ donation is prohibited in their religion which, in reality, is untrue. No religion prohibits organ donation. And then, there are several horror stories that are a powerful deterrent. Earlier, transplants were misused (they still are) and got a bad name for themselves so, people are scared as well. All of us must have seen it on news channels where patients are admitted to a hospital only to wake and find their organs have been removed.

In the Indian state of Goa, foreign tourists who overstay after the expiry of their visas are targeted by loan sharks and are tricked into selling their kidneys. In 2016, reports also surfaced from Pandoli, a small community in rural Gujarat where villagers were allegedly pressured into selling their kidneys to solve their financial problems.

Diabetes is rife in India. Untreated diabetes leads to organ failure, necessitating a transplant, but there aren’t enough donated organs to go around. Indian hospitals receive countless requests for organs from abroad as well. And so the underground trade persists.

Although such illicit rackets have been flourishing since the early 1990s, the growth and the rising popularity of social media has catapulted the trade into a new direction. Harvesters are openly lurking on dozens of Facebook pages fashioned as kidney and transplant support groups.

The widening hole between the demand and legal supply of organs is being filled by what is believed to be the world’s biggest organ market spanning across India, Nepal, Sri Lanka,  Bangladesh and Iran. Sri Lanka has become the epicenter of illegal kidney transplants over the years.

To promote organ donation as a positive practice, the authorities are enlisting the help of Bollywood actors. Aamir Khan, for instance, has pledged to donate his organs. Earlier this year Sri Lanka suspended all kidney transplants for foreigners after Indian police linked a kidney racket in India to doctors based in Sri Lanka, allegedly operating on Indian donors and recipients.

All of these practices and initiatives have had limited impact on the ever-so-growing business of illegal organ trade primarily because of the fact that trafficking in organ trade is an organised crime. The recruiter who identifies the vulnerable person, the transporter, the hospital staff, the medical professionals etc. The trade is rarely exposed because of the large number of people involved in it.

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Image for representation only. Source: Allison Joyce/Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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