Youths sell kidneys for cash on streets of Tehran
By Geneive Abdo in Tehran
The Guardian (London)
June 10, 1999
In any other large capital, a queue of unemployed young men appearing
each morning outside a government office might simply be there to draw
dole. In Tehran the men are kidney donors.
For 10 million rials ( pounds 725) they sign on for surgery, followed
by a 10-day stay in hospital and a month's recuperation.
In some cases donors have sold their organs on the black market in exchange
for Iranian-made Peykan cars.
Press reports are full of chilling tales. One man sold a kidney and
a vein from his left leg, and was prepared to surrender the cornea of an
eye. Another legally married four wives and ordered each to sell a kidney.
Official statistics put na tional unemployment at 11-14%, but experts
say it is much higher. With few prospects of earning a living, an alarming
number of Iranians in their 20s and 30s are trading kidneys for cash.
Officials are deeply worried by the mounting youth crisis. Even ultra
-conservatives concede more must be done to provide for both the economic
and spiritual needs of young people, some of whom are turning to drugs,
alcohol and petty crime.
Some young men outside the state-run Iran Kidney Foundation, hope to
intercept prospective kidney recipients and strike black market deals,
which offer far more than 10 million rials, the official state rate for
'We sit here and try to determine which people going inside the office
are wealthy,' says Hojatollah Asadi, 26, from Hamedan, a city in western
Iran. 'Then we ask for a private arrangement. I have been sitting here
for 15 days. My wife and children don't know why I came to Tehran. I was
too embarrassed to tell them. But if I make 1 million tuman (10 million
rials), I will be able to support my family.'
According to officials, black market sales account for 80% of all kidney
donations. An estimated 1,000 1,200 transplants are performed each year,
and the numbers are expected to grow. Kidney failure is among the most
common diseases in Iran.
'They (donors) should be respected even if they are doing this for money,
because they could have earned this money through other means, like robbery
or forgery,' said one official at a non-governmental medical association.
'In some cases the recipient can afford to pay over 50 million rials
to the donor, and we also have had cases in which the recipient has agreed
to finance the donors forever.'
But the kidney trade is considered embarrassing by some Iranians, who
feel the family and the state should provide for the needy. The Islamic
revolution was meant to establish an egalitarian society.
'We are absolutely opposed to this,' Reza Khatami, the deputy health
minister, told Shafa magazine.
But Nader, 28, waiting in the queue for a kidney recipient says: 'This
has become a capitalist country. If you have money your life is okay. If
not, you must die.'