Vietnam police probe paid kidney 'donors' for hint of trafficking

By Mai Tram - Thanh Tung, Thanh Nien News

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Ho Van Tranh, 45, from Can Tho wears a cut from giving up one of his kidneys. He said gave it away to an acquaintance to return a favor and was paid VND120 million. Photo by Duy Khang

Police in Vietnam's Mekong Delta have identified eight people, including five siblings, who "donated" their kidney in exchange for money in what might lead authorities to uncover an organ-trafficking ring.

A statement by Can Tho City police said all eight people live in in Thanh Phu Commune of Co Do District. Some of them gave up their kidneys through middle agents in Ho Chi Minh City. Two of them were taken to China for the transplant surgeries. 
All eight are poor farmers who have neither a rice field nor a steady-income job, according to the police. Most of them said they needed of money to cover living expenses, while one claimed he gave up a kidney to return a favor - and got some money too.
The World Health Organization said it is strongly against payment for any type of organ donation. Organ trade is illegal in all countries, except for Iran.
Surgeries in China
Danh Lan, 32, said by a person named Ut helped him sell his kidney in China for VND100 million (US$4,700). Ut helped him get a passport and visa to China, Lan said.
Another donor, Ngo Phu Anh, 39, said he was approached by a broker known as Ms. Sau, who knew that his family was poor and indebted.
Anh said Ms. Sau suggested that he sell a kidney. She also completed all needed paperwork for him to travel to China in 2002 to meet the receiver, a Vietnamese American man named Vinh.
Vinh paid him VND50 million after the transplant, Anh said.
Police said they are clarifying claims about Ut and Ms. Sau.
Anh later introduced Ms. Sau to his brother Ngo Thanh Hoai, 27, who needed money to cover his wife's medical expenses. 
Hoai gave up his kidney at Viet Duc, a leading surgery hospital in Hanoi, in late 2010 and received VND110 million from Sau in Ho Chi Minh City.
Five from a family
Ngo Phu Em, 31, also Anh's brother, sold a kidney to an acquaintance named Dung in March 2008 for VND55 million. 
Another brother, Ngo Hoang Son, 43, and sister Ngo Ngoc Bich, 41, were also identified by police as paid kidney donors.
The others on the list are Ho Van Tranh, 44, who was paid VND120 million for a kidney, and Le Van Gion, 36.
They all presented written forms in which they voluntarily donate their kidney to the receivers.
Vo Hai Trieu, head official of Thanh Phu Commune, confirmed that they had sought his approval in their donation forms. Trieu, who is not authorized to do so, only certified their residency instead, he said.
He did, however, “informed higher authorities and asked locals not to listen to bad people and do harms to their health.”
HCMC hospital
Tranh said he sold his kidney in 2013 to a man named Nguyen Quoc Loi who once lent him VND5 million when he was looking for a job in Ho Chi Minh City. 
Loi had complained about his kidney failure, and asked if he could give him one, Tranh said. He agreed to fill in a donation form, which was notarized in HCMC.
Tranh said “some people" promised him before the surgery that they would influence the local authorities to provide free health insurance for him, so that "whatever disease I may have would be covered by the insurance.”
The surgery was carried out in the 115 Hospital in HCMC. Today, three months later, Tranh said his incision still hurt. He had difficulty walking and could not ride a motorbike.
Doctor Nguyen Dinh Phu, deputy director of 115 Hospital, said the hospital would checks records for such kidney transplant surgeries, as there was a possibility that the donors' statement was not accurate.
But he said in any case, the hospital never allows receivers to pay donors, nor does it represents receivers to do that. “It’s wrong. But if the receivers pay discretely, we cannot control it.”
According to Dr. Phu, kidney donors and receivers at the hospital receive consultation and health checks and their donation forms have to be signed by their parents or spouses and local authorities.
But the five siblings involved, all children of 68-year-old Ngo Van Y, gave away their kidneys without him knowing.
Y said if he had known about their intention, he would certainly have tried to stop them.
High demand
Organ transplant experts said when there’s money involved, it’s illegal organ trafficking and not donation.
Prof Tran Ngoc Sinh, head of the urinary department at Ho Chi Minh City Medicine University, said the limited source of donated kidneys has encouraged kidney trade.
A kidney transplant doctor at HCMC’s leading hospital Cho Ray said it receives nearly ten calls a week seeking consultations about kidney donation, and most of the callers just wanted to sell their kidneys.
Vietnam started to perform organ transplant in 1992 but still struggles with scarce supply, due mostly to cultural view that it is very important to keep the body intact, even for burial or cremation.
Estimations from hospitals last year showed that more than 10,000 patients were
waiting for kidney transplants.
Police in Can Tho in early 2011 busted a different ring that tricked healthy youths between 18-35 from the southern region to to sell their kidneys in China, which is believed to be the world's busiest market of organ trade.

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