Aug 8, 2022

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Kidneys for sale: Inside the sprawling underworld of human organs trade

These are top secret and risky transactions. But after weeks of investigation, Nation can uncover that poor and desperate Kenyans are being exploited in the underworld of the illegal organ trade that is feeding into a global ecosystem. While some social media users enjoy sharing memes about selling kidneys, this is real — and no laughing matter.

After a lead, our investigation led us to the poorer parts of Oyugis, Homa Bay County, where sources told our team that selling kidneys to brokers has become the norm. All one had to do was sign an agreed payment document after passing a series of mandatory medical tests, and then go through the kidney removal procedure. Our investigation shows that the amounts involved range from Sh300,000 to Sh700,000 after a successful operation.

The young men and women we encountered, mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, said they were pressured into doing so sell their kidneys to survive, try to pay off debts and provide for their families. While the illegal organ trade in Kenya is not new, the market appears to be growing and the people behind it are becoming bolder as there is a willing market of desperate Kenyans to choose from.

And the infiltration The dark side of this ecosystem feels like starring in a spy movie. In April we contacted six men by phone who told us they had donated their kidneys, without identifying us as journalists but expressing our interest in learning more about the black market. They explained the process to us in detail, saying where the procedure was done, why they chose to do it and how much they were paid.

Sacrifices

Last month the Nation team started with a journey to uncover this lucrative business. We agreed to meet with one of them in the city of Oyugis. We arrived around 9am and he asked to meet us at the Muthui junction, three kilometers from the main road.

The first three calls, made five minutes apart, remained unanswered. We thought he freaked out. On the fourth try he chose and asked us to wait for him for an hour; Four hours later he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe they tricked us? We called another person in the group but his phone was off. We called the third who didn’t pick up but we left a message. The first day was a disaster.

On the second day, all phones were turned off. Later that evening one of them got in touch and asked what we wanted from him. We explained it to him and five minutes later his phone was off.

On the third day, almost giving up, we tried one last time. This time the phones were on and one of them asked us to speak to his father given the sensitivity of the matter.

“Why are you bothering me? I don’t trust you guys. Talk to my father,” he said.

After a series of questions about our identity and why we were interested in his son’s recent surgery, we found a way to calm him down and told him, that we didn’t want that to harm them.

We explained that all we wanted to know was the process of selling a kidney, how the process works and a referral to a hospital where that procedure can be carried out. It is clear from his reply that he did not trust us, but we convinced him to direct us to his home.

Dangerous Ringtone

“Then can you take us to your home Earn our trust, we have a patient and we’ll let your son speak to him privately.”

When we got there, the young man’s frail build showed that he wasn’t taking well to the Recovered from treatment had operated on three months later. We will call him Elijah. We have endeavored to disguise their identities for their own safety as they had all warned us that the group behind the illegal trade was dangerous.

“I did my surgery in April, the process was ok and I was paid Sh700 000. I’m still recovering,” he said.

“Why did you decide to do this? Did he donate to anyone? In which hospital was the operation performed?”

“I didn’t donate my kidney to anyone, I did this for money. After I finished Standard Eight, I didn’t have the privilege of going to high school. Since then, life has been so cruel,” he says.

When he heard that there were people who bought kidneys and that he could survive with them, he told his father that he wanted to make the decision for money to build a house and buy a motorcycle.

“From the beginning we were warned that the procedure is illegal and where the procedure took place remains top secret,” he says.

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As he relates, he began the process after agreeing with his recruiter, who also resides in Homa Bay County. They traveled to Eldoret for pre-examination, blood type testing, and other related medical tests. This took a month as those who bought the kidney wanted only the healthiest to be removed.

He was transported home and told to wait for their call for the results. A month later he received a call that all his tests were perfect and that they should proceed with the surgery. On a Monday morning he was again escorted by his recruiter to another location in Eldoret.

He signed several papers, some of which he said he did not understand, and the next day he was given some medicine ready for the operation . His was performed a day later at a hospital in Eldoret, which he declined to name at the time, and lasted about four hours, he recalls.

He did not spend the night in the hospital. Instead, he was taken to a recovery room. At six o’clock in the evening he was driven to another destination, where he stayed for four days.

He received his 700,000 Sh in cash and was driven home.

“That’s my story . These are qualified doctors who will take care of everything, including your medications,” said Elijah, who declines to reveal anything about the hospital.

Realtor

According to Elijah, anyone who the wanted to contact the group behind the operation, could not do so directly but had to contact brokers, including those who underwent the operation. Blood type, name, ID card number and age were initially specified for all inquiries via this trustworthy channel. There was no other way to infiltrate this gang. We needed to find a hospital nearby.

“Bring the details and I’ll put you through to the right person,” he said, revealing he’d referred a number of people who had successful surgeries and had been paid. “They treat people well, there is no need to worry.”

Human organ trafficking is illegal and punishable in Kenya, although difficult to enforce. As we will reveal later in this series, Rachuonyo South and East Criminal Investigation Officer David Kirui confirmed to the nation that an investigation into the illegal trade in human organs is underway, but said they had made no arrests so far.

As we left Elijah’s house at 3:00 pm, we drove all the way to the neighboring Ndhiwa constituency to meet with our second kidney salesman, whom we will call Mathew. We arrived at 4pm.

He was very cooperative and even showed us his scar from the surgery.

“I’ll be brief and very frank. It’s not legal, but it’s easy money,” he says. “I donated a kidney and received compensation.”

He used the money to buy a new motorcycle but adds that he did the rest.

“If someone has a patient, I can put you through to someone or point you in the direction of where to get help. But don’t mention my name anywhere,” he says.

Network of activities

He explains that with many people involved, although he remembers where he was taken for the preliminary examination, one might not be able to tell the exact place the operation was performed.

First, he says he was taken to a location in Eldoret where his blood work and X-rays were done as prescribed to cure serious illnesses.

Mathew was later asked to go home. He waited two months. Later he was instructed to report to Eldoret, but was not told where to go.

“My E Results were delayed because more people were taking the test,” he says.

The process was similar to Elijah’s, but he claims his practice was in a building that looked like a church. He was then taken to a one-room apartment building. There were similar houses nearby and the tenants went about their business. The recovery period lasted three days, after which he was paid Sh400,000.

He also insisted that we had to do an initial test before we could be introduced to the people behind the illegal trade. The interview ended at 7 p.m. We drove 16 kilometers from Ndhiwa Subdistrict to Homa Bay Referral Hospital and arrived at 9pm. Nothing unusual was going on in the hospital.

In the morning around 9 o’clock we went to have the blood drawn. It took less than an hour (there is no indication that Homa Bay Referral Hospital is aware of or in any way involved in the illegal trade in human organs, only conducted basic testing). We drove to Oyugi’s town, as we had arranged with Mathew to meet at a central point.

“With that, I trust that you will surely need help. But when you go there, just say you were recommended by me (using his real name) because there’s a percentage that we agreed that once I recommend people, they should pay me,” he said.

We were now ready to give directions to the hideout used by the backers of the trade. After further inquiries we finally got directions. We drove from the town of Eldoret towards Kitale to the Sinai junction and then took a rough road near a church. We would look for a blue gate.

“Go through this gate, third door on the left – this is where the pre-screening takes place. There you will meet Jack, he will do the assessment and tell you if you are suitable for the procedure or not,” we are told.

Things were about to get interesting.

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Tomorrow in the Sunday Nation our team is meeting the gang behind the illegal organ trade