‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade

Recent media reports show that more than 1,000 kidneys have been traded in the past five years in Herat, one of Afghanistan’s largest provinces. (AFP)
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Updated 25 February 2021

‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade

  • Herat residents and lawmakers accused the government of failing to provide jobs and alleviate them from poverty, leading to a rise in the illegal kidney trade

KABUL: When Fateh Shah and his two brothers sought to escape a debt trap a couple of years ago, he says they were left with two options: To either commit a crime to pay off their lenders or to sell their kidneys.

“We were fed up with their repeated harassment,” Shah, 35, told Arab News.

They fled to neighbouring Iran “with the help of a smuggler,” hoping to find a job there and send part of their earnings back home to pay off their debts in stages.

“But we got into more debt as we were deported soon after arriving in Iran ... The smuggler became our new lender, demanding money for the trip. It was a nightmare,” Shah said.

The three brothers finally decided to go under the knife, each earning 320,000 Afghans ($4,000) for selling one kidney.

“We had no other option … we could not take the humiliation, shouting and complaints of the lenders anymore. We either had to commit a crime to pay our hefty debts or sell our kidneys, and we decided to live with one kidney rather than stealing,” Shah said.

The Shah brothers are not alone. According to recent media reports, “confirmed figures” show that more than 1,000 kidneys have been traded in the past five years in Herat, one of Afghanistan’s largest provinces, which shares its border with Iran.

“Hundreds of people who have sold their kidneys live in Se Shanba Bazar village in Injil district in Herat,” the private TV channel Tolo News said in a report.

Shah says he learned about the illegal kidney trade in western Herat, where he, like many others, had settled after fleeing prolonged periods of drought, poverty and joblessness in the province of Badghis, in the northwest of the country.

So lucrative is the illegal kidney trade that two hospitals in Herat “offer transplantation services with the help of Iranian doctors,” according to the report, which added that children as young as seven and several women “were among those forced to sell their vital organs.”

The numbers shared by the Afghan authorities, who launched a probe into the trade soon after the report, are equally jarring.

“When the team visited the hospitals, it found that in one hospital 182 transplants had occurred … and 18 in another hospital,” said Dastagir Nazari, Health Ministry spokesperson.

He added that initial findings showed that the “transplantations had been going on in the two hospitals in Herat for at least two years.”

“But … we came to know that the number is much higher, especially in the Injil district, than in these hospitals,” Nazari said.

The alarming figures prompted authorities in Herat to conduct a more detailed investigation.

However, officials “found no document showing that trade has happened inside the hospitals” between donors and patients. Public health laws dictate that the “transplantation of a kidney can only happen when the donor is a relative of the patient, in need of the kidney,” with the illegal trading of organs punishable by law, Nazari said.

Experts blame the “health mafia” in Herat for the province’s dire straits.

“It is a reality that economic compulsions have put much pressure on our people, but the health mafia should not misuse the poverty of the people this way,” Waheed Qatali, the governor of Herat, posted on Facebook recently.

However, Herat residents and lawmakers accused the government of failing to provide jobs and alleviate them from poverty, leading to a rise in the illegal kidney trade.

“The government here is good in giving hollow slogans to people. It cannot stop this process because people have no alternative,” said Rafiq Shahir, a prominent figure in Herat.

He added that poverty was prevalent in many parts of Afghanistan despite the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid since the Taliban’s ouster in a US-led invasion in 2001 because “authorities live a luxurious life.”

Dr. Nawrooz Haqmal, an Afghan health expert based in the UK, agreed, saying that “people had no choice but to break the law”, which prohibits the illegal sale of kidneys.

“The sad reality has been reported for years wherein the private health sector has been involved in illegal businesses,” he told Arab News.

“Also, the silence of the leadership of the public ministry about the details of this illegal business has created confusion about the law enforcement in the capital of one the major cities,” he added.

Ordinary Afghans were still able to joke about the issue, with a satirical TV program featuring Herat’s illegal kidney trade as its main topic last week.

Impersonating President Ashraf Ghani, who has repeatedly vowed to improve the livelihood of the Afghans since assuming office more than six years ago, one artist said: “The people of Herat are wise to sell their kidneys to boost their economy. Afghans were very rich, and each possesses a treasure in their bodies for selling.”

“Hope to see you, the nation of Afghanistan, soon with one kidney,” he added.

Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan promote halal tourism in Philippines

Updated 6 sec ago

Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan promote halal tourism in Philippines

  • Muslim travel market is forecast to reach a value of $225 billion by 2028
  • Manila won emerging Muslim-friendly destination award earlier this year

MANILA: Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan have joined a campaign to promote halal travel in the Philippines, as Manila seeks to attract more visitors from the Middle East and Muslim-majority countries to meet its tourism goals this year. 

The Philippines’ economy is dependent on tourism, which in 2019 generated about $50 billion, contributing nearly 13 percent of the country’s GDP. But that share fell to about 5 percent in 2020 and 2021, when the global travel industry ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With Manila positioning itself as a Muslim-friendly destination as part of a strategy to revive the tourism sector, the Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan are part of the latest move to support the promotion of halal tourism in the Philippines. 

“The Department of Tourism is taking advantage of the presence of the Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan to help and assist promote Muslim-friendly and halal tourism in the Philippines,” Tourism Undersecretary Myra Paz Valderrosa-Abubakar told Arab News on Sunday. 

Abubakar said that the Miss Universes’ trip to the Philippines would be a “big boost” for the country that would hopefully influence the global Muslim community to visit the archipelago nation, which is home to white sand beaches, famous diving spots, lively entertainment, diverse cultural heritage and distinctive wildlife.

With the Muslim travel market forecast to reach $225 billion value by 2028, the Philippines’ government announced in 2022 that boosting foreign arrivals from the Middle East and Muslim-majority nations was among its priority goals. The Philippines is well on its way to meeting its target of welcoming 4.8 million foreign arrivals this year and has already received more than 4 million visitors so far, official data showed. 

Earlier this year, the Philippines won the Emerging Muslim-friendly Destination of the Year award during the Halal in Travel Global Summit, a recognition of its efforts to attract global Muslim travelers. 

That effort continues with the latest collaboration between the Department of Tourism and The Farm resort and Xpedition Middle East magazine, which seeks to promote halal and wellness tourism in the Philippines. 

Miss Universe Bahrain, Lujane Yacoub, and Miss Universe Pakistan, Erica Robin, arrived in Manila on Friday and will be in the country as part of their training for Miss Universe 2023 in El Salvador in November. 

While the two women are in the Philippines, they are set to show the beauty of the country to the global Muslim community. 

“What the Philippines already has is this amazing diversity in wanting to welcome in many different places and even Muslim countries. It’s just an amazing place to be,” Yacoub said during a press conference on Saturday. 

“I encourage anyone from Bahrain to come and visit the Philippines. It is gorgeous with its beaches and its diving spots, and its rich, rich culture. The Philippines has amazing hospitality and it’s so welcoming.” 

Robin said that it was a privilege to help promote the Philippines. 

“It’s been just less than 24 hours and the Philippines already feels like home … And we still have … a lot to explore, a lot to learn, a lot to share with the world what the Philippines has to offer,” she said.  

“I feel so honored and blessed to promote something that needs to be out for people to know. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show the brighter side of your country that I’m sure every Muslim country would love to know.” 

Suicide attack wounds 2 police officers in Ankara near parliament: Interior Minister

Updated 01 October 2023

Suicide attack wounds 2 police officers in Ankara near parliament: Interior Minister

  • Turkish media reported a loud explosion was heard in Ankara near parliament
  • Parliament was scheduled to reopen on Sunday following a summer recess

ANKARA: A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in the Turkish capital Ankara on Sunday, wounding 2 police officers, the Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.

Turkish media reported a loud explosion was heard in the heart of the Turkish capital, near the Parliament.

Parliament was scheduled to reopen on Sunday following a summer recess.

Australia swelters through ‘scorching’ heat lifting bushfire risk

Updated 01 October 2023

Australia swelters through ‘scorching’ heat lifting bushfire risk

  • Australia faces a high-risk bushfire season following the onset of an El Nino weather event
  • Australia’s last two fire seasons have been quiet compared with the catastrophic 2019-2020 ‘Black Summer’ of bushfires

SYDNEY: Australia’s southeast on Sunday sweltered in a heat wave that raised the risk of bushfires and led authorities to issue fire bans for large swathes of New South Wales state.
The nation’s weather forecaster said temperatures would be up to 12 degrees Celsius (53.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in some areas, with Sydney, the capital of Australia’s most populous state New South Wales, set to hit 36 C (96.8 F).
At Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, the temperature was 34.6 C (94.3 F) at 2 p.m. (0300 GMT), more than 11 degrees above the October mean maximum temperature, according to forecaster data.
Australia faces a high-risk bushfire season following the onset of an El Nino weather event, recently announced, which is typically associated with extreme events such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts.
State Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib announced the start of an official bushfire danger period, with the “scorching” heat lifting the risk for the week ahead.
“Not only is it hot, it’s dry and it’s windy and those conditions combined are the perfect storm,” Dib said.
Fire authorities on Sunday issued nine total fire bans for parts of the state to reduce the chance of bushfires.
Further south in Victoria state, authorities issued an emergency evacuation order for a rural area in the Gippsland region, about 320 kilometers (198 miles) east of the state capital Melbourne, due to an out-of-control bushfire.
Australia’s last two fire seasons have been quiet compared with the catastrophic 2019-2020 “Black Summer” of bushfires that destroyed an area the size of Turkiye and killed 33 people. In Sydney, local resident Sandy Chapman said she was worried about the mix of extreme heat and wind.
“It doesn’t take long to start a fire and have it burning and it’s very scary,” Chapman said.
Sydneysider Katie Kell hoped there would be no repeat of bushfires on the same scale as 2019-20.
“I don’t know, with how hot it’s been since the start of spring, I’m not too confident,” Kell said.

Afghan embassy in India suspends operations

Updated 01 October 2023

Afghan embassy in India suspends operations

  • Embassy says was difficult to continue operations due to cut in staff, resources
  • India will take control of the embassy in a caretaker capacity, Afghan embassy says

NEW DELHI: Afghanistan’s embassy in India on Sunday suspended operations, more than two years after the ouster of the former Western-backed government.

While New Delhi does not recognize the Taliban government that returned to power in 2021, it had allowed the Afghan embassy to continue operations under the ambassador and mission staff appointed by former president Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul as US troops pulled out.

“It is with profound sadness, regret, and disappointment that the Embassy of Afghanistan in New Delhi announces this decision to cease its operations,” the statement read, posted on X.
The suspension comes into immediate effect.

The statement said it had been “increasingly challenging” to continue operations due to cuts in staff and resources, including a “lack of timely and sufficient support from visa renewal for diplomats.”

The closure follows reports that the ambassador and other senior diplomats left India in recent months, with infighting among those remaining in New Delhi.

But the statement said it “categorically refutes any baseless claims regarding internal strife” among embassy staff, and denied any diplomats were “using the crisis to seek asylum in a third country.”

India will take control of the embassy in a caretaker capacity, it added.

A populist, pro-Russia ex-premier looks headed for victory in Slovakia’s parliamentary elections

Updated 01 October 2023

A populist, pro-Russia ex-premier looks headed for victory in Slovakia’s parliamentary elections

  • Former PM Robert Fico and his leftist Smer party led with 23.7 percent of the vote
  • Pro-EU Progressive Slovakia party was a distant second with 15.6 percent

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia: A populist former prime minister who campaigned on a pro-Russian and anti-American message looked to be heading for victory in early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, according to preliminary results early Sunday.

With results from almost 88 percent of about 6,000 polling stations counted by the Slovak Statistics Office, former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party led with 23.7  percent of the vote.
A liberal, pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, was a distant second with 15.6 percent of the votes cast Saturday.
With no party likely to win a majority of seats, a coalition government would need to be formed.
The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, was in third with 15.4 percent. Pellegrini parted ways with Fico after Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Fico’s chances to form a government.
“It’s important for me that the new coalition would be formed by such parties that can agree on the priorities for Slovakia and ensure stability and calm,” Pellegrini said after voting in Bratislava.
The populist Ordinary People group was in fourth and the conservative Christian Democrats in fifth.
Two parties close to the 5 percent threshold needed for representation in the 150-seat National Council could be potential coalition partners for Fico — the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, an openly pro-Russian group, and the Republic movement, a far-right group led by former members of the openly neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia.
The pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party also could get seats.
Final results were expected to be announced later Sunday.
The election was a test for the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and a win by Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.
Fico, 59, vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his attempt to return to power succeeded.
Michal Simecka, a 39-year-old member of the European Parliament who leads the liberal Progressive Slovakia, campaigned promising to continue Slovakia’s support for Ukraine.
Fico, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.
He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the US should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal. He has repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state.
Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights and threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deal with corruption and other serious crimes.
Progressive Slovakia, which was formed in 2017, sees the country’s future as firmly tied to its existing membership in the EU and NATO.
The party also favors LGBTQ+ rights, a rarity among the major parties in a country that is a stronghold of conservative Roman Catholicism.
“Every single vote matters,” Simecka had said Saturday.
Popular among young people, the party won the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia in coalition with the Together party, gaining more than 20 percent of the vote. But it narrowly failed to win seats in the national parliament in 2020.