In Afghanistan, a Booming Kidney Trade Preys on the Poor

HERAT, Afghanistan — Amid the bustle of beggars and patients outside the crowded hospital here, there are sellers and buyers, casting wary eyes at one another: The poor, seeking cash for their vital organs, and the gravely ill or their surrogates, looking to buy.

The illegal kidney business is booming in the western city of Herat, fueled by sprawling slums, the surrounding land’s poverty and unending war, an entrepreneurial hospital that advertises itself as the country’s first kidney transplantation center, and officials and doctors who turn a blind eye to organ trafficking.

In Afghanistan, as in most countries, the sale and purchase of organs is illegal, and so is the implanting of purchased organs by physicians. But the practice remains a worldwide problem, particularly when it comes to kidneys, since most donors can live with just one.

“These people, they need the money,” said Ahmed Zain Faqiri, a teacher seeking a kidney for his gravely ill father outside Loqman Hakim Hospital. He was eyed uneasily by a strapping young farmer, Haleem Ahmad, 21, who had heard of the kidney market and was looking to sell after his harvest had failed.

The consequences will be grim for him. For the impoverished