Sale of human organs banned in move to clamp down on illicit organ trade
has a new law banning the sale of human organs, imposing severe restrictions on
transplant operations for foreigners, and stipulating long jail sentences and
huge fines for violations.
“This law will bring the organ trade in
Egypt down to a minimum,” Assistant
Health Minister Abdel Hamid Abaza told
IRIN. “With a law like this, patients will not
need to seek organs in an illegal
The law, approved in December
2010 after protracted discussions in
parliament, took effect only in June
owing to country-wide political
turmoil since January. It ends the
debate about whether Islam or other
religions permit the taking of organs
from deceased persons - by allowing
organs to be donated.
Doctors say about 1,500 illegal
transplants take place annually.
Most live organs come from the
destitute who sell body parts to pay
debts or start small projects to earn
a living to escape unemployment
and poverty. A recent report by the
Central Auditing Organization said
21% of Egypt’s 80 million people
live in poverty.
Most of those needing a transplant find
costs prohibitive. For example, a legal liver
transplant costs US$44,000-53,000.
“This is too much for an average
Egyptian,” said Mahmud Al Metiny, a
leading liver surgeon in Cairo. “This will
make matters harder for patients, particularly
In 2010, the World Health Organization
(WHO) described Egypt as a “hub” for
organ trafficking, saying the country was
one of five organ trafficking hotspots.
“The approval of this law is a wonderful
step that creates hope for thousands of
patients who have been waiting a long
time for life-saving transplant operations,”
said Hussein A. Gezairy, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
“It is also a significant step towards
ending illegal organ trafficking, which
usually results in operations conducted
under unsafe conditions and harming
both donor and patient.
According to the Coalition for Organ-
Failure Solutions (a non-profit health and
human rights organization trying to combat the trafficking of humans for their
organs), donors and organ sellers in Egypt
consist mainly of young men aged 22-27,
while recipients and buyers are largely over
45. Brokers, it notes, solicit vulnerable
individuals for organ sales, and some
donors have been lured from as far as
Darfur in western Sudan.
Implementing the new law, say experts, will
be challenging despite a newly established
transplant fund designed to help the poorest.
Al Metiny and other specialists wonder how
many transplants the fund can pay for.
Another problem is that few people are
ready to donate organs. According to Samia Sabri, a cornea specialist at Cairo
University, a law which regulates only
cornea transplants has been in effect since
1963 but it is not easy to find donors.
“Even with this, we rarely find cornea
donors,” Sabri said. “This makes blindness
inevitable for many patients.” Currently,
5,000 patients are waiting to receive
Part of the problem is that the
culture of donating is not widespread
and the sanctity of the human body
is deeply rooted in Egypt’s culture.
The pharaohs, for example, used to
mummify the dead and put them in
a golden sarcophagus.
But recently the Mufti, who issues
edicts to the predominantly Muslim
population, announced plans to
donate his own organs after his
death to encourage others to do so.
“We are dealing with the cultural
heritage of millennia,” said Magda
Mustafa, a psychology professor
from Helwan University. “People
need to understand that by
donating organs, they save the lives
There are also structural issues, say
experts, including transport and communications
networks. According to Sabri, a
cornea is good only for three hours after it
is taken from a dead donor.
Mohamed Fathi, a liver professor from
Ain Shams, Egypt’s second largest university,
says the same applies to human
livers. “The government must improve
the roads and buy helicopters to take
organs from dead persons - particularly
those who die in road accidents - to
hospitals,” he said.
Egypt also lacks transplant specialists.
According to Rifaat Kamel, a member of the
Cabinet-affiliated Higher Organ Transplant
Panel, there are only 10-20 such experts in
the country. “This is not enough given the
huge demand,” he said.
of upload: 18th Oct 2011