An investigative report by an official newspaper has offered a rare glimpse into the illegal organ trade on the mainland and how poverty has driven young people to sell their kidneys for just 20,000 yuan.
Donors, mostly migrant workers living in the Pearl River Delta region, sold their kidneys for a variety of reasons, including paying for a girlfriend's abortion, helping to support a grandfather, paying off credit card debt and even buying iPads and iPhones, the Nanfang Daily reported.
They were approached by agents in online chat rooms. After check-ups, the agents would offer them group accommodation and wait for a suitable match. Meanwhile, a different group of agents sought out people in need of kidney transplants at hospitals.
When a match came up, the donor would have one of the kidneys harvested in an operating theatre and then leave in three days with 20,000 yuan (HK$24,500), a weakened body and a long scar.
The mainland allows living organ donations only among blood relatives and there are very few organ donations after death. Yet more than one million terminal kidney patients and 300,000 terminal patients with liver disease await transplants each year. The huge gap has created a thriving organ trade. One agent mentioned in the report was said to have organised the sale of more than 100 kidneys last year alone.
'I now regret doing it,' said a pale and weak He Qing, who sold a kidney for 20,000 yuan in Foshan in February. 'I am much thinner than before. Had I found a job and worked hard for several months, I would have made 10,000 or 20,000 yuan.'
He went to Dongguan and signed a sales agreement with an agent in a small hostel after a series of check-ups in February. Two days later he was taken from Dongguan to a place in Foshan.
'I am not sure where it is, but it's definitely not a hospital. The equipment there was very professional,' He told the newspaper. The whole operation lasted only an hour and afterwards he was short of breath because it was 'very painful'. He stayed in a recovery room for a day but 'it was so painful that I couldn't sleep'. Two days later he was taken to a small hostel and paid his fee.
He said he used 9,000 yuan to pay off credit card debt and 250 to rent a room. He was so bored that he bought a computer and a new mobile phone, which cost most of the rest of his 20,000 yuan. He said he could not work any more and stayed in a rented room and did nothing but surf the internet, play with his new phone and think of how to pay off the rest of his credit card debts.
The report said an underground organ-trading web spanned many provinces.
An unidentified source told the newspaper that half of the donated kidneys were from the agent who organised the sale of He's kidney. Many people worked for the agent.
'The agent is only a link of the chain. He has a boss and the boss owns his own private hospital,' the source said.