Transplant surgeons steal kidneys from poor

India/ `spare part' organs racket
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WHEN the Indian inspector at a Bangalore police station asked the four haggard men in front of him what was wrong, they all lifted their shirts to reveal a long, curved scar. "Our kidneys have been robbed," one of the men told Inspector V S D'Souza.

At Bangalore's busy Commercial Street police station, the inspector had encountered a great variety of thefts before - but never of kidneys. The victims were all poor, illiterate villagers from Tamil Nadu, who had arrived in Bangalore seeking work. The stories they told were as identical as their scars, a line snaking up from the pelvic region to the middle of the back.

Promised a labourer's job, each man was told to submit to a blood test. At hospital, he was given an injection that knocked him unconscious. Velu, 29, told Sunday, an Indian weekly magazine, that he awoke to find a huge bandage around his waist. "I was told that I'd fallen down and had to be operated on," Velu said. He was given 5,000 rupees (£100) by his contact and made to sign papers which he could not read. "I was asked to go back to my village and not to come back to Bangalore again," he added.

Back home, Velu got into a fight with his brother and was punched hard in the gut. When the pain refused to go away, he went to hospital and was opened up. "When I insisted that the doctor tell me what was wrong, he said that one of my kidneys had been removed during the surgery," Velu told Sunday.

Not only were the four men's stories the same, but all were allegedly duped out of their organs by the same man, Dr Adil Syed Ahmed, recently returned to India from Saudi Arabia. What Inspector D'Souza had uncovered was, as he described it, a "crime against humanity".

Those four victims were the beginning of a long queue. Over several years, crooked doctors in this south Indian city swindled more than 1,000 ignorant villagers out of their kidneys andsold the organs for as much as £12,000 to foreign recipients, most of them in the Gulf states. The unscrupulousness of some Indian doctors in this matter is almost legendary. An Israeli tourist, after suffering an attack of appendicitis in Delhi two years ago, was operated on and told to return home to heal. Back in Tel Aviv, he again experienced the same pain. Israeli surgeons found that the Indian doctor had carved him open and stole his kidney - without bothering to take out the inflamed appendix.

Seven doctors from some of Bangalore's leading hospitals were arrested for what one police officer described as "a wholesale business" in organ trafficking. Indian authorities believe that similar kidney rackets are operating in Bombay and possibly other cities. Three Indian states, Maharashtra, Goa and Himachal Pradesh, in February began to close some - but not all - of the loopholes in laws banning the traffic in spare human parts and organ transplants. But as Dr Vidhya Acharya, a leading Indian kidney specialist, said: "Commercial transactions did not stop in February. They are still going on in Bombay. I can vouch for that."

Shahajilal Tamboli, who runs a volunteer donors association, reckons that nearly 50 illegal kidney transplants are still carried out every day in India. Recently in Bombay Mr M S Shukri, who had run up a £160 debt on his credit card, received a visit from collection agency musclemen who tried to force him to sign a consent form for his kidney. "Next thing, I got a letter from a doctor asking for my blood group," said Mr Shukri, who eventually sought help from the police.