Pakistan police have arrested eight members of an illegal organ harvesting ring, who allegedly removed kidneys from over 300 patients and sold them to wealthier clients for transplants. Provincial authorities have confirmed around three deaths in the process, BBC reported.
The ring's alleged leader has been identified as Fawad Mukhtar, who is accused of conducting more than 300 operations where he removes kidneys from patients and sells them for up to Rs 10 million ($34,000). Mukhtar has been arrested for malpractice five times in the past but has managed to secure bail each time.
The gang's operations are believed to be in the Punjab province as well as the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Punjab Provincial Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi said that such transplants were carried out in private homes, often without the permission or knowledge of the patient.
As per reports, a car mechanic reportedly worked as Mukhtar's surgical assistant and lured patients from hospitals for these transplants. "There are a lot more transplants and illegal surgeries than this. These are the ones that we have confirmed," said Naqvi.
Organ harvesting in Pakistan
Pakistan was considered as a hub for organ trade. Despite an outright ban on the sale of human organs in Pakistan since 2010, there has been a rise in such activities primarily as people struggle with low wages and poor law enforcement in the country. Many citizens sell their kidneys to pay their debts or survive. The minimum punishment for organ trafficking is 10 years in jail along with a hefty fine.
This particular incident came to light two months ago after a man told police that he was convinced to get private medical treatment by one of the alleged gang members. The man found out in a later treatment that was missing a kidney, according to CNN.
Naqvi said that he is now working with the Inspector General of Police of the Punjab province to strengthen the country’s cyber laws so advertisements for such illegal kidney transplants are banned online. The operations of other such gangs are also being looked into.
Pakistan authorities in January busted an organ harvesting syndicate after a missing 14-year-old boy was found in an underground lab with his kidney removed. Six people were arrested in the case.
According to a 2020 analysis published by the National Library of Medicine, organ trafficking has become a "global problem" with health and human rights consequences for millions of people, especially for those in vulnerable situations, CBS News reported.